The state's whooping- cough epidemic has not gone away. To combat the rise in cases, the Washington State Department of Health has spent more than $1 million in state and federal funds to make free and low-cost vaccines available to lower-income residents.

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The statewide whooping-cough epidemic declared in April has not gone away for the summer. In fact, the number of cases remains unusually high.

“Our numbers continue to grow and are much higher than what we usually see,” said Michele Roberts, spokeswoman for the state immunization office. “We’re still very concerned.”

To combat the epidemic, the state Department of Health has spent over $1 million in state and federal funds to make free and low-cost vaccines available to lower-income residents.

Since last month, the state has ordered 41,400 doses of vaccines, and counties continue to work with local health agencies and pharmacies to distribute them.

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In the wake of the epidemic, the state spent $727,000 in federal funds for 27,400 doses of vaccine for underinsured and uninsured adults — 26,400 for counties, 1,000 for tribal health clinics. .

This month, the state spent over $371,000 in state and federal funds to make 14,000 more doses available to counties on an as-needed basis.

Introduced in 2005, Tdap vaccine protects against pertussis, tetanus and diphtheria in adults and children 7 years and older who were not vaccinated earlier. Schools require children 6 years of age and younger to be immunized against pertussis with another vaccine, known as DTaP.

But many adults, some who are not insured, may not be vaccinated and can spread pertussis to children and infants.

“The current price (of vaccine) is $60, and for some people that’s not doable with the economy right now,” said Marci Reynolds, clinical-care coordinator for QFC.

Most insurers cover the cost of the vaccine. . But with the state-supplied vaccine, the price drops to a $10 to $15 service fee if the underinsured or uninsured customer can pay. Otherwise, the fee is waived.

“With this type of outbreak, you can’t pinpoint the cause, but one cause is that the vaccines wear off, and people are not protected from disease,” Roberts said. “There are still a lot of adults who don’t have it.”

The most recent numbers from the Department of Health show 3,000 cases of pertussis recorded so far in 2012. The peak hit in May with more than 250 cases reported in a week. No deaths have been reported this year.

There were 965 cases in 2011, 608 cases in 2010.

Pertussis can be fatal for infants, because their bodies cannot support the strong, consistent coughing, and children are not fully protected until the recommended fifth dose of DTaP between 4 and 6 years of age.

Pertussis, also known as whooping cough because of the sound of the coughing, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by a bacterial infection. It can lead to difficulty breathing, vomiting and disturbed sleep. In adults, the symptoms can resemble a cold at first with the cough, fever or runny nose. Some may feel periods of wellness, but the symptoms will return unless treated by a physician.

In March, Reynolds noticed a comment card from a customer suggesting Tdap clinics after she lost her 1-month-old great-niece to pertussis in 2011. QFC pharmacies in Snohomish County, where pertussis was already at epidemic levels, scrambled to set up six clinics. Their Tdap inventory increased tenfold from carrying five or fewer packs to having at least 50 on hand.

QFC partnered with King and Snohomish counties to offer the free-to-low-cost vaccine with a $10 service fee since they had partnered in 2009 during the H1N1 swine flu pandemic.

Rite Aid, which also has maintained a regional relationship since the pandemic, jumped on board to provide the state-supplied vaccine at 13 locations in King, Snohomish, Spokane and Thurston counties.

. “Rite Aid truly, truly believes immunization is the most preventive measure to not get sick,” said Katya Kanevski, clinical manager for Rite Aid in the Pacific Northwest region.

As whooping-cough cases rose this year, immunization rates in adults rose as well. The state recorded administration of 111,382 doses of Tdap to adults 19 and older between March and June, more than twice the 51,456 doses recorded in the same period in 2011.

Kibkabe Araya: 206-464-2266 or On Twitter: @kibkabe

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