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Support 'community immunity': get a whooping cough vaccine

Posted on May. 21, 2012 ( comments)

Washington State is currently experiencing epidemic levels of whooping cough, or pertussis. There are usually about 60 confirmed cases per year in Pierce County. In April 2012 there were 120 confirmed cases here, according to Denise Stinson, RN, of the Tacoma Health Department. The cases have been increasing since January 2012 and the Washington State Health Department reports 1,484 confirmed cases statewide as of the beginning of May.

California experienced a whooping cough epidemic in 2010 with almost 9,000 confirmed and suspected cases and 10 deaths of infants under 3 months of age.

These are numbers that have not been seen in six decades.

Whooping cough is a life-threatening disease for infants, and they often catch it from the adults and older children who spend time with them. So it is extremely important that everyone who “shares air” with a child under a year old be immunized for whooping cough. We need a certain percentage of a community to be vaccinated in order to prevent the spread of disease (called “community immunity,” or “herd immunity”).

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that everyone receive pertussis-containing vaccines at 2, 4, 6, and 15-18 months of age(may be given at 12 months), then at 4-6 years and 11-12 years.

In addition, all adults who have not received a Tdap vaccine (the tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis vaccine for people over 7) should do so now — the CDC recommends receiving the Tdap vaccine at least two week before you have contact with an infant, if at all possible.

Remember that the effectiveness of vaccines can wear off as the years go by, so if you haven’t had a whooping cough vaccine in a long time, you should get one now. You should also get one even if you've had whooping cough in the past.

Pregnant women who are at least 20 weeks gestation should also receive a Tdap vaccine. This will protect both the mother (who often is the contact for babies who get whooping cough) and the newborn who will have protection through mom’s antibodies.

Whooping cough vaccines are widely available at doctor's offices, and are also offered by many pharmacies and walk-in clinics.  

Any adult who can't afford a whooping cough vaccine on their own can get one at no charge at the Mary Bridge Mobile Immunization Clinic (call 253.792.6630 for an appointment) or MultiCare Mobile Health Clinic (at the South Hill Mall Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10am-5pm). You may call 253.403.1767 for more information.

The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department will be holding free whooping cough immunization clinics at their 3629 South D Street, Tacoma, office on Wednesday, May 23, 2012, from 5pm to 7pm and Saturday, June 2, 2012, from 9am to 1 pm.

These clinics are meant for adults 19 years and older. Children's vaccines will not be available.

For more pertussis information, please see the Washington State Department of Health website,, or the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.

Posted in: General Vitals

About The Author

Carolyn Cook, RN, MSN
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