Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire opened up an emergency fund Thursday to help contain a whooping cough epidemic as officials urged residents to get vaccinated.
Gregoire is making $90,000 in crisis cash available to help strengthen a public awareness campaign about the need for the pertussis vaccination. The state Department of Health is already looking to spend about $200,000 on the effort.
“Pertussis is very serious, especially for babies,” Secretary of Health Mary Selecky said in a statement. “It’s vital that teens and adults are current on their immunizations because they’re often the ones who give whooping cough to babies.”
The state has also received approval from the federal government to divert some federal cash toward the purchase of 27,000 doses of the whooping cough vaccine. Those will be available for uninsured residents.
Pertussis, or whooping cough, is a highly contagious respiratory illness spread by coughing and sneezing. Infants are particularly vulnerable to whooping cough because they can’t be immunized before 4 to 6 weeks.
So far this year, 20 children under the age of 1 have been hospitalized for whooping cough, according to state data.
Babies often get the illness from adults and family members because the shots children get wear off over time. Officials want residents to get a whooping cough booster, called a Tdap.
Washington has already recorded 1,132 cases of whooping cough this year – about 10 times more than the same time last year, according to disease investigators at the Department of Health. The state is on pace for as many as 3,000 cases in 2012, something that hasn’t been seen in decades.
As of last Friday, Pierce County had reported 147 cases of whooping cough. The county’s incidence rate – at 18 cases per 100,000 residents – exceeds the statewide rate of 16.8 pertussis cases per 100,000 Washington residents.