State health officials want to launch a war on whooping cough by toughening immunization requirements for schoolchildren.
Whooping cough, formally known as pertussis, was once thought to be on the decline in the United States because of childhood vaccinations. But the vaccine’s immunity wore off over time, and the respiratory illness has made a comeback.
In 2005, nearly 1,000 cases were reported in Arizona.
Now, the state Department of Health Services wants children ages 11 and older to receive a booster of the pertussis vaccine.
“This is really to protect those junior high kids, but more importantly to protect that newborn at home who hasn’t started the immunization series,” said Nadine Miller, health services director in the Mesa Unified School District. “The average teenager will be sick, but an infant will be really sick, often hospitalized.”
Miller’s department runs “roving immunization clinics,” and this year, nurses began giving out the new vaccine. Last week alone, they inoculated some 1,300 students with it.
Mesa school nurses also placed notices in school newsletters to alert parents of the need to get the “Tdap” vaccine, which, along with pertussis, includes boosters to ward off tetanus and diphtheria.
“Other states are putting in these requirements, too,” said Kathy Fredrickson, chief of the Arizona Immunization Program Office. “It’s not a big leap to this requirement since many states already require a tetanus (vaccine). It’s virtually the same vaccine, only now it has an additional protection for pertussis.”
While whooping cough is rare, the bacterial illness is highly contagious, transmitted by breathing in airborne droplets. It can cause weeks of severe coughing that causes patients to make a “whooping” sound when they gasp between coughs. Coughing can be so bad it causes vomiting and even cracks ribs. Complications are most common among infants and young children.
Some school districts, such as the Chandler Unified School District, already recommend that students receive the shot.
“Since there’s been an outbreak in various parts of the state, I’ve already been giving (the vaccine) out at the junior highs,” said June Carson, the district nurse.
The state health department is seeking public comment on the changes, which would go into effect in fall. The recommendations also include requiring students ages 11 and older to receive a meningococcal vaccine, which would be necessary to start school in fall 2008. The proposal would also require children ages 1 to 6 to get a hepatitis A vaccine in order to enroll in Maricopa County licensed child care.
For information on the proposed immunization changes, visit: www.azdhs.gov/diro/admin_rules/vaccine_rules.htm