Get vaccinated against whooping cough

Seattle Times - Editorial Staff

WASHINGTON residents young and old need to make sure they are vaccinated against whooping cough during what has become an epidemic with real public-health threats.

For many, this requires getting a booster, because the vaccinations are usually valid for only five to 10 years.

Thursday, Gov. Chris Gregoire directed emergency funds to help combat the epidemic. In 2012 alone there have been more than 1,130 cases of whooping cough in the state. That is almost a tenfold increase from the 117 in that same time period last year. The outbreak is now at a rate not seen since the 1940s.

Epidemiologists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently came to the state to investigate this outbreak after Sen. Maria Cantwell requested their help.

The infection can be deadly — most at risk include infants and those who are medically fragile. Not getting a vaccination could put someone else's life at risk. The most tragic cases involve mothers unknowingly passing the disease to their newborn children.

Pertussis, the bacterial name of the disease, is mostly preventable through the use of vaccinations, though they are not 100 percent effective. According to the Washington State Department of Health, individuals may be charged a small fee for the doctor's visit, but will not be charged for the state-provided vaccine itself.

Washington has one of the nation's highest rates of parents getting their children exemptions from vaccinations required for public school attendance — about 6 percent. In some rural parts of the state, that figure tops more than 20 percent.

Health officials speculate high exemption rates may be contributing to the epidemic. The state allows exemptions for medical reasons, as most states do, but also allows exemptions for religious beliefs and personal motives.

We've come too far in eradicating common but dangerous diseases to let unfounded fears infect and potentially kill the most vulnerable in our society. This outbreak will cost the state not only small and fragile lives, but more than $300,000.

Federal, state and local officials need the public's support to combat this disease. Everyone should ensure their pertussis vaccine is up to date and stop the spread of this preventable infection as soon as possible.