Public health employees in Contra Costa County donned vests in bright colors Wednesday and took their positions at nine sites across the county. It was a drill of the public health services emergency response program. The rehearsal had a second purpose too: vaccinating county residents against influenza and whooping cough.
Health officials were ready with 1,500 vaccinations at each location. At Richmond’s Civic Center auditorium, more than a thousand people from infants to the elderly showed up, county officials said.
The shots were given for free, on a first-come, first-served basis, regardless of insurance status. People who were needle-shy were able to get a nasal-spray flu vaccine.
Explaining the county’s flu season slogan—“five minutes vs. five days”—county immunization coordinator Erika Jensen said it takes just five minutes to get vaccinated, and it’s five days out sick if you get the flu.
Jensen said people don’t get the flu from the shot, and the vaccine is recommended for all people over six months old, in order to protect the largest possible percent of the population.
“People should get vaccinated to protect themselves, but also to protect their family members, co-workers, and especially babies under six months, who can’t get vaccinated.”
This year’s vaccine includes two strains of seasonal flu, as well as the 2009 H1N1 flu strain.
Last year, H1N1 was declared a national emergency, and the strain broke out too late to be included in the seasonal flu vaccine. Jensen said this year public health agencies prepared, stocking up on flu shots and making sure people did not have to get two different vaccines. However, the California Department of Public Health recommends a second vaccination for children between six-months and nine-years-old after four weeks to ensure the efficacy of the vaccine.
Jensen said people can spread the flu for 24 hours before they see symptoms. The seasonal flu is usually mild, but can be deadly to the elderly and people with weakened immune systems. The 2009 H1N1 flu strain caused severe illness in thousands across California, and state health officials say 596 people have died from H1N1 as of August, 40 of them children.
This year, public health officials have been confounded by whooping cough rather than influenza.
The state health department in June declared whooping cough—or pertussis—an epidemic, with the highest number of cases in 50 years. There have been more than 150 cases so far this year in Contra Costa County, vastly overshadowing last year’s 19, said Jensen. Ten babies have died in California.
TDap booster shots, which protect against pertussis, tetanus, and diphtheria, are recommended for anyone ten years or older, especially those who have regular contact with young children and infants. Infants get routine pertussis vaccines, but they aren’t fully vaccinated for months, and adults can pass on the disease without knowing they even have it.
Adults who were vaccinated as children no longer have immunity; health officials say the vaccine wears off by age ten. Next year, California will require a pertussis booster for students in the seventh through twelfth grades.
Although it is not deadly in most adults, whooping cough can make people really sick. “It’s called the hundred day cough,” Jensen said.