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As the new school year approaches, some may feel overwhelmed with gathering up school supplies, shopping for school clothes and perhaps wrapping up that final vacation of summer. Most of us have no desire to add one more thing to our to-do list.
If you’re the parent of a 7th through 12th grader, you’ve probably heard that your student needs a whooping cough (pertussis) booster shot, whether your child is at public or private school. This vaccine, called Tdap, protects against a highly contagious and dangerous disease described by some as the “100-day cough.” Whooping cough can cause such strong coughing that it can make some people lose their urine, bleed in the whites of their eyes, or break ribs. In Shasta County during 2010 and 2011, we know of at least 33 local people who have been ill with whooping cough and 6 who have been hospitalized. It is likely more people had the disease than were reported.
Vaccines are critical to maintain our health. Before vaccines, tens of thousands of people died of smallpox, polio and diphtheria each year. But our nation’s vaccination program has been so successful that many of these preventable, deadly and debilitating diseases haven’t even been seen by today’s young adults or children. This has left some folks feeling like these diseases are no longer a real threat to children. But some diseases, such as whooping cough and measles, are coming back and spreading in areas where vaccination rates are low.
A small but growing number of parents are signing “personal belief exemptions,” which declare that vaccinating their children violates their personal beliefs. The Health and Human Services Agency recognizes and respects that some families have medical or religious reasons for avoiding some or all vaccines. There is concern, however, that some parents may sign these waivers out of convenience. Please understand that effective vaccination relies upon community immunity to work, and unimmunized children put all children and adults at risk. Community immunity is achieved when a high percentage of the population is vaccinated, and a virus or bacteria cannot easily move from one person to another because almost everyone is immune. This helps protect infants too young to be vaccinated and others who cannot get shots for medical reasons.
At the start of this summer, only about 10 percent of students had provided proof of the Tdap booster to their schools. With a lot of hard work from our local schools and medical providers, we’re delighted to see that number is closer to 70 percent now. Our Public Health clinic has been very busy, and we hope it stays that way.
For your convenience, Shasta County Public Health will be giving the Tdap vaccine from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday (Aug. 12) and from 2 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 17, at the Veterans Hall (1620 Yuba St. in Redding).
You can also call us at (530) 225-5591 to make an appointment for another time, or ask your family doctor or local pharmacy. You must provide proof of vaccine to your child’s school within 30 days after school starts to comply with this new law.
Together, we are building a healthier community.
Donnell Ewert, MPH, is director of Shasta County Public Health. While at Wheaton College, he participated in the Human Needs and Global Resources program, which included a seven-month internship in Honduras – an experience that sparked his interest in public health. He earned his master’s degree from UCLA after evaluating a program that used goats to increase the nutritional intake of malnourished children. He worked briefly as a health educator with migrant farm workers in Virginia before becoming an epidemiologist for the health departments in Los Angeles and the state of Indiana. Donnell came to Shasta County Public Health as an epidemiologist in 1999, after doing humanitarian health work in Kazakhstan. He has been the department director since 2007. He and his wife, Mary, have two teenage daughters.
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