At a special immunization clinic set up in Barre, everyone from teens to parents is getting the DTaP vaccine-- diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis.
Pertussis or whooping cough spiked the past few months in Vermont and around the country. So far, nearly 280 cases have been reported this year; about three times as many as last year.
"I heard what was happening in the state, that there was more pertussis around," said Roberta Garland of Montpelier. "And I thought why not? Why not protect myself?"
The highly contagious bacterial infection can cause uncontrollable, violent coughing that can last for weeks.
"It generally starts off looking like a cold and often for the first week or so parents will think, 'Oh, my child just has a cold.' Often runny nose, maybe a very low-grade fever and a cough; usually starts off fairly mild but does get progressively worse over time," said Linda Seel of the Vt. Health Department.
In extreme cases it can also lead to pneumonia, seizures, brain damage and even death.
Officials believe several things contributed to the nationwide outbreak, including the effectiveness of the current vaccine wearing off. A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that protection from the vaccine drops by 42 percent each year after the last required childhood dose. So even kids who got all their shots could be susceptible before their teens.
"There is a schedule for pertussis-containing vaccine and kids need multiple doses of it, but we are learning-- and nationwide the CDC is looking at this-- that the vaccine is not as effective as we thought it was and we hoped it would be, and so immunity does wane over time and as teenagers age," Vt. State Epidemiologist Patsy Kelso said. "So there is a requirement for seventh-grade school entry that everybody have a booster of pertussis-containing vaccine and there's also a recommendation now that every adult have a booster."
Another major challenge, according to health officials, is parents who don't immunize their kids. Vermont has one of the highest nonmedical immunization exemption rates in the country. The Legislature last session mounted a full-court press to get rid of the philosophical exemption, but opponents fought back and were able to sway enough lawmakers to stall the effort.
In the meantime, many are lining up to protect themselves.
"I feel like everybody needs to do it to be protected," Garland said. "On the other hand, I do read about people's hesitations and take that into consideration."
Health officials also recommend that all adults-- especially those who have contact with infants, including grandparents-- be vaccinated. The goal is to protect babies who are not yet fully vaccinated.
Free adult pertussis vaccination clinics: Sept. 27, Oct. 4, Oct. 25, Nov. 1, Dec. 6, Jan. 3, and Jan. 24. All clinics are from 1 p.m.-4 p.m. at the Vermont Department of Health in Rutland: 300 Asa Bloomer Building. Call for appointments: 802-786-5811.
PO Box 4508