By STEVEN NALLEY
The Oktibbeha County Health Department at 203 Yeates St. will host an immunization clinic from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday to provide children and adolescents with the immunizations they need to enter school, including the Tdap vaccination now required for all children entering seventh grade.
The Mississippi Department of Health enacted this requirement in April, joining 41 other states, and it takes effect this 2012-2013 school year. This vaccination costs $10 and protects against pertussis, also known as whooping cough, along with diphtheria and tetanus.
Paul Byers, state epidemiologist, said the whooping cough vaccination has been available for a number of years, but Mississippi has seen outbreaks of the disease. The number of reported cases across the U.S. has increased since the early 2000s, Byers said.
“Pertussis in the U.S. has actually become the most common vaccine-preventable disease that we see now ... when we consider those routine childhood diseases,” Byers said. “We do know pertussis is a problem for us (in Mississippi). We do see cases reported every year.”
Robert Curry, MDOH District Health Officer for the Prairie Hills District that includes Oktibbeha, said Tdap is similar to the DTaP vaccination, protecting against the same diseases with a different mixture of the vaccines.
“This new one is actually the adult version of it,” Curry said. “That’s the real difference between the two. We’re really just now following the guidelines that have been recommended ... since 2006. We feel like this is the time to try to go ahead and protect the people of Mississippi.”
Byers said the need for the new vaccination for seventh graders arises because while DTaP does bestow resistance to whooping cough, the resistance decreases over time.
“That leaves those children in the adolescent age groups susceptible,” Byers said. “Children in this age group can get infections and in addition be a source of infection for children less than 12 months of age who haven’t completed their initial vaccinations and are vulnerable to more severe complications.”
Curry said many parents may not be aware of the new requirement for seventh graders. In response to the new requirement, he said, health departments throughout the state offered Tdap for free for two weeks in June, with minimal response. This time, he said, there are no plans to offer the immunizations free.
“We anticipate this is probably going to pick up the first few weeks before and after school,” Curry said. “We certainly encourage parents to call ahead. We want to expedite them getting their immunizations coming in and getting back out. We don’t want anybody waiting longer than they need to.”
Curry said all required immunizations for children entering school for the first time are available as well, including DTaP, polio, hepatitis B, MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) and chicken pox. The human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccination and other boosters are also available for adolescents, he said.
“Any of the child immunizations that might have been missed in prior treatments, we can see what they might need,” Curry said. “We can work to try to get that information as well If they’ve had immunizations at another pediatrician’s office. If (parents) have immunization records ... anything they might have certainly would be helpful.”
Curry said parents should not be afraid of repeating immunizations children have already taken if they are unsure about their children’s immunization histories.
“It’s typically not a problem,” Curry said. “None of these immunizations pose a significant health risk if they are repeated.”
Other health departments throughout the state are conducting similar clinics Curry said, and a second OCHD clinic is set for Aug. 8. Curry said immunization is important not only for whooping cough but for other dormant illnesses that once killed millions of people.
“Measles, mumps, rubella, all of those are problems that have markedly decreased over time,” Curry said. “We don’t want that sort of thing to happen again. These truly are dangerous diseases. Prevention is extremely important for this. Treatment for these diseases is very limited, and prevention is really the only way to go.”