Gov. Chris Gregoire today has made emergency funds available to the state Department of Health to help curb the epidemic of whooping cough (pertussis) underway in Washington. In addition, Gregoire is urging health care professionals to get vaccinated and vaccinate their patients, and she announced federal approval for health officials to re-direct some funds to buy several thousand doses of pertussis vaccine for adults.
"I've been following the epidemic closely and the continued increase in cases has me very concerned about the health of our residents," Gregoire said. "I'm especially concerned about the vulnerable babies in our communities that are too young to be fully immunized. These actions will help state and local health leaders get vaccine into people's arms so we can stem the tide."
Secretary of Health Mary C. Selecky declared a whooping cough epidemic in Washington one month ago today and has been keeping Gregoire informed of the increasing case counts.
"In my 13 years as secretary this is the first time I've had to use the word "epidemic' about disease in our state," Selecky said. "Pertussis is very serious, especially for babies. It's vital that teens and adults are current on their immunizations because they're often the ones who give whooping cough to babies. We're headed for unprecedented numbers of cases. We've got to keep spreading the word to help prevent the spread of illness."
Along with $210,000 in existing funds from the Department of Health, Gregoire is making $90,000 available from the governor's emergency fund to strengthen public awareness efforts about the need for vaccination. Gregoire will keep access to the emergency fund open in the event the state needs to purchase additional vaccinations.
Gregoire also announced that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has approved using federal funds designated for other immunizations to buy more than 27,000 doses of pertussis vaccine for adults who are uninsured or underinsured. The governor also strongly urged all health care providers to get vaccinated, and to talk with all of their patients about the importance of making sure they've received the Tdap vaccine.
According to disease investigators at the Department of Health, 1,132 cases of whooping cough have been reported in the state through April 28--that's compared to 117 over the same time last year. There were 965 cases reported in all of 2011. The epidemic is on pace for as many as 3,000 cases in 2012.