Anne Copeland, a nurse at the Suffolk Health Department, administers a Tdap shot to Jan Jurnigan. Health professionals like Copeland are urging adults to get a Tdap booster shot, if they need one, to protect children.
Anne Copeland, a nurse at the Suffolk Health Department, administers a Tdap shot to Jan Jurnigan. Health professionals like Copeland are urging adults to get a Tdap booster shot, if they need one, to protect children.

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The right shot

Published 9:51pm Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The acting director of the Western Tidewater Health District is urging adults who haven’t already done so to update their tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (Tdap) booster shots to “protect our children.”

While school divisions, including Suffolk Public Schools, are reminding parents of the requirement for children, Nancy Welch is emphasizing the importance of shots for adults as well.

“Truth be known, adults, who end up being the main spreader of the disease … are the more challenging aspect,” she said.

While parents and officials tend to focus on the requirements for children, adults often neglect their own immunizations, Welch said.

And while for influenza, for instance, children are the main spreaders, with pertussis, also known as whopping cough, adults are the main culprits, she said.

“Eighty percent of adults who actually have pertussis don’t have any symptoms” or mistake symptoms for other illnesses, such as bronchitis, Welch said.

“What it means is, those adults … are the ones spreading it, and they don’t even know it.”

The immunization rate for Tdap is as low as 80 percent, she said, while for most other vaccinations it’s 90 to 95 percent.

“That’s why it’s especially important that we get not only children immunized, but adults as well,” she added.

The Virginia Department of Health requires documentation of required immunizations for attendance at public or private elementary, middle or secondary schools, child care centers, nursery schools, family day care homes and development centers.

Children require a minimum of one dose of Tdap after age 4. Children medically exempt from pertussis-containing vaccines require DT (diphtheria and tetanus) vaccinations.

Meanwhile, all children need a Tdap booster before the sixth grade, if the last dose of tetanus-containing vaccine was five or more years ago.

Suffolk Public Schools says sixth-graders without the booster shot will not be able to start school — there will not be a grace period — and is calling on parents to review children’s shot records.

“We ask you to obtain the immunization for your child as soon as possible from your family doctor or local health department and provide a doctor’s statement to the school nurse,” a news release states.

Children who have had the shot within the past five years will need to provide proof of immunization.

The local health department has supplies of all required vaccinations, Welch said.

“It’s certainly important they receive the vaccination,” she said.

Anne Copeland, a nurse at Suffolk Health Department, said vaccination numbers among children are down this year so far.

Department workers are hoping parents and guardians start bringing children in early, instead of leaving it to the end of August.

“We’re hoping they start coming tomorrow,” Copeland said. “We’d like to not get overrun.”

Children, she said, need to arrive with their shot records, which workers use to detect vaccination gaps they may be able to plug.

“Sixth-graders need a lot of different things,” Copeland said. “I always sit down and go over what they need.”

Vaccinations at the department are free for families below the poverty line, with a sliding cost scale for those above the line.

Some shots are subsidized as “special project vaccines,” Copeland said, including Tdap, which the department supplies free to anyone 19 or older.

For more information, call 514-4700.

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