The Central District Health Department, which traditionally supplies immunizations for children up to age 18, wants adults to know that it has 200 doses of tetanus toxoid, better known as Tdap, to combat pertussis, better know as whooping cough. The limited adult vaccine supply specifically targets parents or household contacts of infants 6 months of age or younger.
“The thing about pertussis is that children under 6 months of age cannot be vaccinated or they aren’t vaccinated fully against this disease,” said Dave Fotsch, public information officer with the CDHD. “They also suffer the most serious consequences if they get pertussis.”
The bacterial disease is easily spread through sneeze or cough, and can be fatal to infants. The most-recent whooping cough-related death in Idaho claimed the life of a 9-week-old girl in May. For adults, symptoms of pertussis can be similar to those of a cold or may cause serious illness and hospitalization.
Vaccinating those who are closest to infants—be it parents, grandparents, siblings or care providers—follows a philosophy Fotsch called cocooning. Since the infants cannot protect themselves, carriers close to them must take responsibility to eliminate the risk of whooping cough.
“This was a special delivery for this vaccine and we were initially trying to distribute it through our Women Infants and Children program because, well clearly, if you have infants—those are the parents we are trying give this vaccine to,” said Fotsch.
The lack of uptake through the WIC program led the CDHD to offer the adult supply more broadly. Now the supply of just more than 200 doses will be offered to people in close contact with infants aged 6 months and younger that live in Ada, Elmore, Boise and Valley counties.
In 2009, the CDHD discontinued adult vaccination offerings because of the availability of services in the private sector. Since this is a rare occurrence for the CDHD to offer vaccinations to adults, Fotsch said it is important for those calling the immunization line to specify their situation.
“Let the folks know that you are a household contact of a child less than 6 months of age, otherwise you will probably be told that we don’t do adult immunizations—which in most cases is true,” Fotsch said.
Although there is a split in Idaho between those who advocate for and against the safety of immunizations, Fotsch said that other than some arm soreness at the site of injection, there are no risks associated with the Tdap booster.
“Unfortunately, immunization against pertussis does not last forever,” Fotsch said. “People may have had it years ago but they may not be fully immunized against it anymore, so that is why we are encouraging all people who have contact with infants to get vaccinated.”