Regence urges families to vaccinate against whooping cough

In response to news that pertussis has become an epidemic in Washington, health insurer encourages families to take action to ensure vaccines are up to date

More than 1,700 cases of pertussis, also known as whooping cough, have been reported in Washington this year, and health officials expect the total to reach as many as 3,000 by the end of the year. The state of Washington has declared a pertussis epidemic, and Regence BlueShield in Washington is joining health officials throughout the Pacific Northwest in urging people to make sure their families have up-to-date vaccinations against the disease.

According to a recent report, the number of pertussis cases in Washington has increased 10-fold since 2011. The last state to declare a pertussis epidemic was California in 2010, when the state had more than 9,000 cases and 10 infant deaths.

“Vaccination is the best prevention for pertussis, and people need to understand that everyone – not just children – need to be vaccinated to prevent the spread of this disease,” said Joe Gifford, M.D., medical director for Regence BlueShield in Washington.

The vaccine to prevent pertussis is included in the regular, recommended series of immunizations given to children. The adult vaccine (Tdap) is now offered in combination with one of the tetanus booster vaccines.

Most Regence plans provide coverage for these recommended vaccines. “As always, you should check with our Customer Service department before having a vaccine or medical procedure so you know what is covered and how it is covered,” Gifford said.

“We’re very concerned about the risk to infants, especially because of how quickly whooping cough is spreading,” said Secretary of Health, Mary Selecky. “Whooping cough can be life threatening for infants, and they’re too young to get enough doses of vaccine to be protected. That’s why we want everyone else to make sure they’re vaccinated against whooping cough.”

Adults receiving Tdap for one of their recommended tetanus booster vaccines will bring their pertussis immunization up-to-date. Adolescents aged 11 through 18 years who have completed the recommended childhood pertussis vaccination series and adults aged 19 years and older should receive a single Tdap, including pregnant women.

A new recommendation from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices calls for pregnant women to get Tdap in pregnancy (after 20 weeks’ gestation). Women who get Tdap vaccine before or during pregnancy pass on extra protection against pertussis to their babies.

About Regence BlueShield
Regence BlueShield is a leading health plan in Washington with nearly one million members, offering health, life and dental insurance. Regence BlueShield is a nonprofit independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, and is affiliated with Regence BlueShield of Idaho, Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon and Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Utah. Together, the companies serve more than two million members in the Northwest/Intermountain Region. The Regence affiliated companies are committed to improving the health of its members and communities, and to transforming the health care system. For more information, please visit www.regence.com or www.twitter.com/RegenceWA.