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Pertussis Epidemic in California: Free Vaccines for Children

Updated on June 15, 2015

State health officials in California have declared an epidemic of pertussis, also known as whopping cough. The amounts of reported cases of whooping cough have increased 5x compared to last year and include six deaths and over 100 hospitalizations.

Pertussis is a highly-contagious bacterial infection of the respiratory system first recognized in 1578. A vaccine was developed in the 1930s at a time when the number one cause of death in infants was whooping cough. Perhaps due to the number of parents choosing not to vaccinate their children, whooping cough (and other vaccine-preventable diseases) is on the rise. A vaccine does not rid the harmful bacteria from the environment; it only helps to immunize people against the bacteria. It is impossible to eradicate bacteria that exist on earth.

Early symptoms are comparable to the common cold: low-grade fever; dry cough; runny nose. Within a few days, coughing is more severe and long-lasting, leaving someone suffering from pertussis gasping or “whooping” for breath. The fits of violent coughing can cause broken blood vessels in the face, eyes, and brain and also cause hernias, fractured ribs, and vomiting. The main cause for concern in infants is respiratory arrest due to lack of oxygen.

Some complications of whooping cough include epilepsy, pneumonia, and brain damage.

Babies 6 months old or less are more susceptible to whooping cough, as well as infants and toddlers who are not fully vaccinated or not vaccinated at all.

The recommended vaccine is DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, acellular pertussis) at two, four, six, fifteen months old and a booster between the ages of 4-6. The link to the above CDC recommendations, updated as of August of this year, can be found here.

Since declaring an epidemic, California is stressing that everyone receive a booster, especially children in middle school, pregnant women, and anyone who is around children often.

Children 18 years and younger who are uninsured can receive free vaccinations of all types, including pertussis, from a medical provider that participates in a program called Vaccines for Children (VFC). Every state in the US has this program available. Though the vaccination is free, some offices may charge an administration fee ranging from $12.00-$18.00.

To locate a medical provider near you that participates in the VFC program, you can call the program directly at 877-243-8832. You can also search on the internet, link here. Simply enter your zip code and find the nearest medical facility that participates in the program. You can call them to find out if they charge an administration fee and then set up an appointment to get your child vaccinated.

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    • Jillian Barclay profile image

      Jillian Barclay 

      8 years ago from California, USA

      Excellent info! Anytime you can get a necessary immunization for free you should take advantage of it. This is a serious health risk- thanks for the facts...Many years ago, my oldest child had whooping cough when she was 15 months old. She was up to date on her immunizations, but got sick anyway. I remember hearing her cough which sounded just like a seal barking. As a young mom, I was terrified and would hope all moms have their kids immunized, especially if they can access free services. Years ago, the Public Health Department offered free immunizations for children and upon looking on-line, have discovered that they still do. Many Public Health Departments throughout the country are offering free pertussis vaccines right now.

    • Deni Edwards profile imageAUTHOR

      Deni Edwards 

      8 years ago from california

      Thank you for your visit and comment.

      This hub is intended to give information on the VFC program. However, due to your critique of my information:

      --I updated my hub to contain information from the CDC and AMA that speculates one of the reasons for the epidemic could include lack of vaccinations.

      --I also included a link to the CDC on vaccine recommendations, updated as of August of this year, stating that immunizations begin at 2 months.

      --As originally stated in my hub, "Since declaring an epidemic, California is stressing that everyone receive a booster, especially children in middle school, pregnant women, and anyone who is around children often."

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Good article; couple of corrections/clarifications:

      - pertussis is the only vaccine-preventable disease whose incidence is increasing. This is most likely due to the vaccine's effects wearing off after several years, not, as the author speculates, on parents choosing not to immunize

      - infants less than 6 months old are susceptible to pertussis only because that's when their their 2 and 4-month DTaP shots "kick in". This has led to changes in the immunization schedule: now newborns get DTaP.

      - because adolescents and adults are the most common carriers (after their childhood vaccine wears off), a good way to protect an infant in the family is to have the caregivers re-vaccinated


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