The season of coughing is around the corner. Ads for flu shots and other vaccinations are getting thicker too. Vaccinations for older adults have new developments this year. A great place to start is this tip sheet from Eileen Beal.
Herd immunity: When writing about vaccines for a certain age group, remember that your audience is not just that group. Communities are protected by the entire immunity of their neighbors and friends. Elders housed in assisted living or nursing homes are at special risk. But college student volunteers, visitors, and grandchildren may need to read your story to avoid unwittingly exposing these older adults. This works backwards also. Older adults who lack up-to-date immunization for whooping cough (pertussis) can expose a newborn when Grandma and Grandpa visit. The booster that many may need is called T-DAP. Continue reading →
Maryn McKenna, AHCJ board member and self-proclaimed “most vaccinated person on the planet,” writes about her own bout with whooping cough. She’d had her shots back in the day, but apparently whooping cough immunity conferred by childhood vaccines fades, and anyone over the age of 12 probably needs a booster. This is relevant because, while whooping cough is not generally fatal to adults, it’s easily transmitted to more vulnerable folks. And in California and across the country, it’s on the march and vaccine supplies are limited.
The worst news in this upsetting trend is this: We’re doing it to ourselves. As far as anyone can tell, the rise in pertussis is not due to any change in the organism, or to any mysterious error among the manufacturers who make pertussis vaccines. It’s due to vaccine refusal, to parents turning away from vaccines because they think the vaccines are more harmful than the diseases they prevent — or, more selfishly, because they think the wall of immunity created by other vaccinated children will protect their unimmunized ones.
That wall of immunity, McKenna says, hasn’t been helping the unvaccinated kids, who are 23 times more likely to pick up the disease than their immunized peers.
The Texas Tribune’s Ben Freed learns, through conversations with public health experts, that the “entirely preventable” disease can be stopped with vaccination rates between 80 percent and 85 percent. Unfortunately, adult rates are nowhere close to those numbers, though the state is taking steps to increase adult vaccinations.
Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.
She finds the most cases in Marin County, one of the state’s most affluent, and in Fresno County, which has “a vulnerable population gripped with child poverty and other ills.”
One contributing factor, according the Marin’s public health officer, is that more than 7 percent of kindergartners start school without vaccinations. Parents there are signing waivers to opt out of immunizations based on their beliefs that vaccinations are dangerous.
Jewett includes links for more information about such fears and about whooping cough. Her piece also includes the county-by-county data on whooping cough in California.
Scott Hensley runs NPR's online health channel, Shots. Previously he was the founding editor of The Wall Street Journal's Health Blog and covered the drug industry and the Human Genome Project for the Journal. Hensley serves on AHCJ's board of directors. You can follow him at @ScottHensley.
Researchers found that kids whose parents refused to have them vaccinated against whooping cough were 23 times more likely to contract the illness, which is marked by uncontrollable coughing spells, than those who got the shots.
In a study of kids in a Kaiser Permanente health plan, 12 percent of the unvaccinated kids developed whooping caught compared with 0.5 percent who got the shot. The results appear in the latest issue of Pediatrics.
Before vaccination against whooping cough became common, the disease was a major cause of childhood death. The vaccine is potent but not 100 percent effective. So it’s important to vaccinate all children to create “herd immunity” for the community, Sean O’Leary, an infectious-disease specialist at Children’s Hospital in Denver, told USA Today.
A measles outbreak in San Diego last year provided another reminder of the risk of skipped immunizations. An unvaccinated 7-year-old boy who came down with measles after a trip to Switzerland spread the infection to other unvaccinated children. The CDC reported 11 other cases linked to the boy. About 70 unvaccinated kids had to be quarantined.