On Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed that 22 people, mostly children, had fallen ill from the highly contagious virus. Though it was nearly impossible to tell immediately from videos and photographs whether they were facing more than one type of glandular fever or both, the CDC and local health officials identified a high risk of contracting pertussis, better known as whooping cough, in young infants.
On Thursday, Oregon’s health department confirmed that it’s now considering delaying the first two doses of an influenza vaccine given to newborns, while recommendations from the CDC will likely roll out later this year. These sources emphasized that vaccines for young children make up the majority of the nation’s annual flu immunization program. Vaccination rates for children aged 2 to 18 are typically among the highest in the country, but these rates are starting to suffer.
Medical experts and public health officials are quick to note, however, that the overall vaccination program has improved substantially from when young infants were given only one dose, and he or she would suffer long-term side effects from the vaccine. Experts stress that vaccinations for infants are critical for preventing many illnesses and save millions of lives each year, especially among older children.
Mr. Pirtle said that it was incredibly difficult to track pertussis among the state’s youngest inhabitants given the variety of ways toddlers are exposed. Toddlers get their first nose swabs at around the age of 6 months, but they are on drugs for food allergies, for for inhalation diseases such as asthma and tuberculosis and even for viral diseases like strep throat. “It’s a really wide range of interactions,” Mr. Pirtle said. “It’s huge. It’s just a matter of categorizing them all.”
However, Oregon’s state health officials are considering delaying the first two doses of a flu vaccine given to newborns, while recommendations from the CDC will likely roll out later this year. Other countries have managed to delay the first two doses of vaccinations for children — most notably, China, which reportedly began delaying its flu shots in 2016 — in the face of mounting rates of pertussis.
Reporting on pertussis is difficult, in part, because the government-recognized Centers for Disease Control and Prevention prefers to track the outbreak after it has begun. To do this, the CDC asks families to send in postcards that includes details about the symptoms of the illness they experienced, whether the person had a fever, and whether they knew they had the whooping cough. When officials think they have a rising outbreak, and are able to keep a closer eye on it, they provide a thorough accounting of illnesses that have emerged. Since the pertussis outbreak began on Sept. 6, nearly 200 people in two counties in Washington have been infected, and dozens have been hospitalized.
So far, no deaths have been reported in the outbreak, but Gov. Jay Inslee said the state “will not be without its costs.”
“We have been in touch with our colleagues in the Washington State Legislature who are prepared to work with us to review and possibly update our Medicaid program to address these costs,” Mr. Inslee said. “We remain vigilant in the fight against this disease that can have serious consequences for our state’s most vulnerable residents.”
Children aged 18 months to 4 years old, pregnant women, adults age 60 and older, anyone with heart disease or diabetes, and those with severe asthma are the groups who are most at risk of contracting pertussis, according to Dr. Greg Sanders, the state epidemiologist for Washington’s health department.
Contributing to the outbreak: Doctors had not seen an illness of the sort associated with pertussis in the Northwest in over 25 years, Mr. Sanders said. The illness, which often spreads easily, is not typically fatal, and doctors can tell which children have pertussis from cases in which they have symptoms of conjunctivitis, a common children’s cold infection.
Though many young children will be included in the future rounds of pertussis vaccinations that Oregon is considering delaying, officials are preparing for the possibility that not everyone could or would come in for the first two doses. Adults in some families refuse or delay the vaccinations for their children, and Dr. Sanders said some parents with young children could not access a physician or a pharmacist that could administer the vaccine or got some