Pertussis outbreak continues to raise concerns in region

The pertussis outbreak continues in Washington, with more than 2,000 cases reported so far this year.

In May, state health department officials determined that the respiratory illness had reached epidemic levels. As of June 2, 2,092 cases had been reported across the state, compared to just 164 cases during the same time period last year.

Health officials continue to urge people to be vaccinated if they have not already done so and have made low-cost vaccines available in a variety of locations.

On Vashon, low-cost pertussis vaccines for those 19 and older are available at the Vashon Health Center for low-income, uninsured and underinsured people, according to clinic manager Rita Cannell, who said she ordered the vaccines to protect people in the community who are most vulnerable to the illness.

Vashon has not had a confirmed case of pertussis since March, but the illness could still be circulating in the community without people knowing about it, she said, so vaccination is still important.

The Tdap vaccines, which arrived last week, can be given for an administration fee of $15.60, Cannell said; if people cannot afford that fee, they can request that it be waived. Appointments are needed, and the fee is requested at the time of service.

At the school district, nurse Sarah Day recently sent an email to students’ families, informing them that public health experts expect high rates of pertussis into the summer. For children, Day noted that low-cost vaccines are available at several Island clinics, all of which participate in the state’s Vaccines for Children program and receive the vaccines for free.

At the beginning of the school year, according to Day, 22 percent of district students were out of compliance with the pertussis vaccine, meaning the school district did not have paperwork indicating whether they had been vaccinated or not. That number now stands at 18 percent, she said.

“I am pleased with that. To meet the bare minimum of herd immunity, we have another 3 percent to go,” Day said, referring to the degree of vaccination needed to consider the Island largely safe from an outbreak.

Day also noted that if there are people who have filed vaccine exemptions but have since received the vaccine, she would like that information as well, in part because the University of Washington School of Public Health is studying the data from Vashon, which is known for its low vaccination rates.

According to the state Department of Health, children under 7 should receive a series of five DTaP vaccines; children ages 7 to 10 who aren’t fully vaccinated against whooping cough and everyone age 11 and older should get the Tdap whooping cough booster.


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