EAGLE COUNTY — While many other parts of the state during the past year saw a resurgence of pertussis, or whooping cough, Eagle County appears to have mostly skirted the epidemic.
According to Eagle County Public Health, Colorado had 1,458 cases of reported pertussis in 2013. Eagle County had only one of those cases and maintains the lowest rate of reported pertussis in Colorado counties. Health officials cite the school district’s higher-than-average immunization rates as the reason.
Vaccines in Schools
Colorado law requires students to have a number of immunizations prior to school attendance. During the past two years, the Eagle County School District’s health team has partnered with Eagle County Public Health to improve the immunization rates of school-age children. The partnership has resulted in a doubling of the number of students in compliance with the state’s immunization requirements. With a compliance rate of 98.6 percent, Eagle County is well above the state average.
“We worked with the school district, really helping them comply. We made sure parents and the schools were aware of why it was important, and we worked with health care providers to give every kid opportunities to be vaccinated, whether they had insurance or not,” said Rebecca Larsen, Eagle County disease prevention manager and epidemiologist.
Health officials said it’s especially important for school-aged children to get vaccinated because most of the required vaccines target illnesses that are spread person to person. It’s an especially relevant idea in a community that hosts thousands of international visitors every year.
“One of the best ways to protect the health of your child, their classmates and the community is ensuring your child is up to date on their immunizations before the first day of school,” said Theresa Carey, Eagle County public health nurse. “Vaccinations also help ensure that students do not miss school due to preventable illnesses and parents do not have to miss work to take care of sick children.”
Whooping cough, a lung infection that starts off like a normal cold and can result in months of severe coughing, is among several vaccine-preventable diseases that have been on the rise.
Larson said pertussis has been on the rise for a number of reasons — it gets spread by people who are not vaccinated, and the existing vaccines are not always effective.
“On the science side, we need to work on developing a better vaccine. But even so, it’s better to get the booster than nothing,” Larson said. “Adults need to be vaccinated as well, especially if you’re around newborns or pregnant.”
Other parts of the country have also seen outbreaks of measles in recent years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention attributes the reappearance of these nearly-eliminated diseases to people who are not up-to-date with vaccinations.
In Colorado, parents can choose not to vaccinate their school-aged children for personal or religious reasons as long as they sign a consent form. While those parents are in the minority in Eagle County, some are choosing to forgo vaccinations.
Eagle resident Tracy Dolan’s 13-year-old son has never had a single vaccine, a decision she made after two family members had bad experiences with vaccines.
“I chose not to because my niece had a reaction to a bad batch of vaccine when she was 2 months old. Now she’s 17 and can’t walk or talk,” Dolan said.
Another family member has autism, and while there’s no proof that vaccines cause autism, Dolan said the family noticed profound changes after he was vaccinated.
“My decision was more based on our family history. Maybe there’s something in our genes. I do think we give too many vaccines at too young of an age,” she said. “I’m not against vaccinations at all. I just think people should do their research and make an informed decision.”
Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 and firstname.lastname@example.org.