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It’s Time To Stop Whooping Cough

Mon., March 11, 1996

It’s not surprising that North Idaho is enduring another outbreak of whooping cough, a potentially fatal disease for infants and toddlers.

Idaho has a higher percentage of unvaccinated preschoolers than any state except Michigan and the highest per-capita rate of pertussis or whooping cough. North Idaho leads the way with a pathetic average immunization rate of less than 48 percent.

The area is ripe for a preventable epidemic.

Sure, money is needed to address the problem. But, more importantly, North Idahoans must recognize that the health of their children is at risk and develop a collective will to address the threat. In this instance, the overused African proverb is correct: “It takes a village to (protect) a child.”

Parents, schools, day-care providers, physicians, public health officials, insurance companies, vaccine manufacturers and the media, which at times frighten the public with incorrect information about a vaccine, are the main line of defense. In North Idaho that line is failing.

Statewide, the vaccination rate for pre-kindergartners is only 66 percent - a far cry from the 90 percent level disease experts say is needed to keep illness from spreading. In 1993, state researchers estimated immunization rates in North Idaho were as low as 30 percent to 52 percent in Bonner County and 38 percent to 57 percent in Shoshone County.

In 1994, 131 of Idaho’s 182 cases were in the five northern counties. Not surprisingly, most were near Sandpoint and Kellogg.

Several factors conspire to keep vaccination numbers low.

Up to 5 percent of the North Idaho population won’t vaccinate their children for medical, political or religious reasons. Such misguided notions put the whole community at risk.

Then, parents today haven’t seen the devastation caused by disease that their parents and grandparents did. Polio rarely cripples in this country now. Children rarely die of measles and pertussis.

Most parents are well-intentioned about vaccinations. More than 90 percent begin the series of shots: four vaccinations against diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, three doses of polio vaccine and one immunization against measles-mumps-rubella. But somewhere along the line they failed to follow through.

A second baby comes along. The family moves and takes awhile to find a new primary-care doctor. A job and health benefits are lost. An insurance deductible is so high that a family can’t afford to see a physician for vaccination shots.

Here’s where the community comes into play.

First, North Idaho parents must realize that vaccinating their youngsters is a critical part of nurturing. Public health services make the vaccinations affordable.

Secondly, physicians, public health officials and anyone else who administers vaccine should develop a tracking and recall system that reminds parents of a need for followup vaccinations. Medical professionals should take advantage of office visits to make sure immunizations are up to date.

Schools and day-care centers shouldn’t allow children to enter without proper vaccination records. Insurance companies and vaccine providers must work to keep the cost of immunizations reasonable. Every dollar spent for vaccines saves $21 in illness costs.

Finally, the media need to do a better job covering vaccine scares. Sometimes, we foment fear through haphazard coverage of a bad reaction to vaccine.

In the last 18 months, North Idaho has experienced three outbreaks of whooping cough. Hundreds have suffered. But there’s a silver lining to these mini-epidemics. Now, the region realizes the disease with a funny name is no laughing matter.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = D.F. Oliveria/For the editorial board

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