After continued outbreaks of pertussis (whooping cough) across the state, state health officials are encouraging people of all ages to be immunized against this highly contagious but preventable respiratory disease.
At mid-month, state public health officials had tracked 326 cases, including 50 in infants.
Because of high numbers of cases in Davidson, Forsyth and Rockingham counties, DHHS has authorized local health departments in those counties to provide vaccine at no charge to anyone, regardless of insurance status.
"State law requires that kindergartners and all rising sixth-graders be up to date on pertussis vaccination before going to school," said Acting State Health Director Robin Cummings, M.D. "But as parents are getting their children ready to go back to school, it is also a good opportunity for parents to check on immunizations for the whole family. Any adults or older siblings, especially those who will be around newborns, should be vaccinated against pertussis."
Infants who are not fully vaccinated against whooping cough are susceptible to severe complications.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, in infants younger than 1 year of age who get pertussis, about half are hospitalized. Of those infants who are hospitalized, one or two in 100 will die.
The Tdap vaccination is especially important for the following groups:
• women who are pregnant or may become pregnant
• all close contacts of infants under 12 months of age (parents, siblings, grandparents, household contacts, child care providers)
• anyone with pre-existing, chronic respiratory disease; and healthcare providers
Tdap vaccine is recommended for preteens at ages 11 or 12 years for protection against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough). Protection provided by the DTaP vaccine received in childhood wears off as kids get older, so preteens and teens need a booster shot known as Tdap.
Some children through the age of 18 are eligible to receive their immunizations at no cost through the federally funded Vaccines for Children (VFC) program which provides vaccines to those who are Medicaid eligible, American Indian or Alaskan Native, uninsured or underinsured.
There is no fee for the cost of the VFC vaccine for eligible children; however a provider may charge an administration fee.
In addition to pertussis, all school children in North Carolina must be vaccinated against:
• Hepatitis B
• Hib Disease
• Varicella (chickenpox)
Individuals should contact their health care provider or local health department to determine what vaccines they should receive or visit www.immunize.nc.gov for more information.
(The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and The Associated Press contributed to this report.)