How to Help Vaccinate Everyone!

Right now, we are in the middle of a severe pertussis (whooping cough) epidemic. In Washington state alone, cases over tentupled (which is a word that I made up for up more than times) since last year. In 2011, there were 146 confirmed pertusis cases through the first 20 weeks of the year. This year? 1738. That’s really bad, people. Really bad. And Washington, frankly, I’m a little disappointed in you.

Pertussis is a disease that, if contracted, often kills infants. And once they contract the disease, the only treatment they receive is to stop them form spreading it. There is no shortening of the illness. There is no medicine to help the body fight it. There’s just medication to stop you from spreading it.

And that “whoop” that gives whooping cough it’s name? That’s the sound of the sufferer struggling for air, being suffocated from inside their own body.

But worst of all, where they usually catch it is from an adult who hasn’t been vaccinated against pertussis.

So over here, in my little corner of the internet, with my tiny organization, we’re trying to fix this in every way we can… which is the only way we can, and that’s by vaccinating people against pertussis. If you can’t get infected with it, you can’t spread it.

The Women Thinking Free and the Hug Me! I’m Vaccinated campaign have partnered with the JREF and will be bringing yet another Tdap clinic to TAM2012.

Tdap is a combined vaccine that immunizes against tentanus, diphtheria and pertussis. It is a booster that all adults need to get. If you have not had a tetanus shot since 2007, you need a Tdap. If you don’t know if you’ve had a tetanus booster since 2007, you need a Tdap. But not all tetanus vaccines contain the pertussis component — some are just Td— so if you are unsure if your most recent booster was a Tdap or the Td, and you are having trouble verifying that information, you need to get a Tdap.

We are also working on several other clinics at other conferences and conventions around the country… and while the medical staffing and the vaccines themselves are donated, the clinics are not completely free to put together. We have to promote them and get our volunteer staff to the events, trips they often fund out of their own pockets.

So we’re asking again if you could chip in to help us save the world.

But this time, we’re also asking if you could chip in to help a friend. A fellow Skepchick Network blogger, who has asked that we keep her identity private, grew up in a semi anti-vaccine household. This blogger is working to get their vaccines up to date, while going to school full time. And she’s paying for these vaccines out of pocket. Her goal was to have the money to have them all up to date by the end of the summer, while sacrificing all else to attend SSACon.

So, as part of our fundraising for these clinics we are also raising funds to help our friend, a dedicated young leader in the skeptic and secular movements, finish receiving her basic recommended vaccines, which include chicken pox and meningitis, so she can focus on doing bigger and better things. If vaccinating everyone against pertussis isn’t your thing, then maybe you can help a Skepchick out.

To donate, you can visit our Chipin page, or use the widget below:

Featured image of a very vaccinated Phil Plait by Jamie Bernstein.


Elyse MoFo Anders is the bad ass behind forming the Women Thinking, inc and the superhero who launched the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign as well as podcaster emeritus, writer, slacktivist extraordinaire, cancer survivor and sometimes runs marathons for charity. You probably think she's awesome so you follow her on twitter.

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  1. Two, no three things. First, this is a great idea, everybody should be vaccinated, excluding those with genuine medical reasons! Way to go!

    Second, has our unnamed skepsister checked with her local health dept? In my neck of the country our county health dept. offers free or reduced prices on vaccinations for low income clients. Worth looking into.

    Third, is this outbreak only in the north-west? I haven’t heard a word of it here in the south-central part of the country.

    Again, great job gals!

    1. Technically, she’s insured as a student, under her parents insurance. Which often times excludes you from being able to receive publicly funded vaccines. But being under their insurance means that they will find out if she gets the shots because that information is sent to the insurance holder.

      And an epidemic has only been declared in Washington, but an outbreak like that threatens everyone.

    2. I was recently talking with an ER nurse here in Northern California, and she mentioned there are also serious outbreaks of Pertussis both here and in Colorado.

  2. Here in Canada we have less anti-vacers and free vaccinations. Boggles my mind how Americans can believe they have the best health care in the world. Can the anti-vacers not see the children suffering and dying?

    1. I don’t think you really understand the anti-vaccine movement. It’s not that they don’t see children suffering, it’s that they don’t think the vaccine would prevent the suffering and that it would only increase their suffering.

      1. I understand that. At some point they may have had a viable theory, but at some point you must bow to the evidence and see that your theory was wrong.

      2. I think what’s also part of the anti-vax movement is that they see vaccines as part of some scheme by “Big Pharma”.

        As if the alternative (if any) was any better.

  3. I know that the vaccination clinics are very expensive, but is there anyone looking into doing one here in Washington? I’d be willing to help in any way I can to try to make that happen. The governor has allocated emergency funds for public healthcare workers to get vaccinated, but nothing for the public. I wish we could set up shop here in Washington to try to help vaccinate people!

  4. “But worst of all, where they usually catch it is from an adult who hasn’t been vaccinated against pertussis.”

    I assume you mean adults who haven’t received one or two boosters rather than have never been vaccinated correct?

  5. How long does the booster last for adults?
    And if one were planning to get pregnant and have a child, what would be the appropriate timing to get a booster?

    1. Right now, the recommendation is to get one Tdap booster as an adult, but I understand that’s still being researched.

      But the Tdap wasn’t available until 2007, so if you have not had a tetanus booster in the last 5 years, you need to get a Tdap. And yes, if you are planning to get pregnant now would be a very appropriate, if not crucial, time to get a booster.

  6. Don’t forget that measles is a killer, too, so everyone please check if you need a booster.

    My parents lost my vaccination records, and I needed to show MMR immunity for grad school. Since I’m allergic to a couple of components in the vaccine, my doctor did a titer to see if I have immunity. Luckily I’ve had measles immunity, but my mumps and rubella immunity has disappeared so I need the booster.

    My health insurance covered the titer 100% (no co-pay) because they consider it to be part of an immunization. They’ll also cover my vaccine 100%. (But, if I have a reaction to the vaccine, I’ll have a co-pay for that treatment. Go figure!)

  7. Forgive my seemingly ignorant question – so in the US, do you guys get lined up in school for vaccinations or is it up to individual families to get their kids vaccinated?

    I understand that in this post you are talking about adult boosters, but just wondering what the situation is for school age kids.

    1. Schools do not vaccinate. They can require certain vaccinations, but nearly every state allows philosophical or religious exemptions.
      Insurance often, but not always, covers basic vaccinations. (by basic, I’m excluding those not required by public schools, like HPV and meningitis and the flu).

      1. I remember being vaccinated in school, I think in the 5th or 6th grade (in Massachusetts in 1963-65), but I don’t remember what for.

        I had all the standard, at the time unpreventable, childhood diseases, including measles (which almost killed me at age 1), mumps, rubella and chicken pox, and got the smallpox, tetanus and polio vaccines from my regular doctor. Maybe it was DPT, or measles vaccine, which had just been licensed.

        Part of the reason I remember it was the school doctor was a tiny old man who sat on a stool next to me, propped up by a nurse, and basically fell over while pointing the needle at my arm to get up enough momentum to give the injection. I later found out he was the oldest practicing physician in the state, and, a few years later, when he was about 100, the oldest living graduate of Harvard Medical School. Remembering him kind of reminds me of young Mr. Grace in Are You Being Served?

  8. Elyse,

    Glad you wrote this. Everyone should get vaccinated. Disease is still a serious problem, and we don’t want another epidemic on our hands. Thanks for doing this. Its very informative. I told my followers about this on Twitter.

  9. We could turn this into a raffle/contest for TAM: guess the unvaccinated Skepchick. My money’s on Elyse, because the odds are 40,000/1 against. :)


  10. I had pertussis as a kid myself, and with my asthma I am extremely lucky I didn’t die. I remember it, despite being only three or four, because it was so unbelievably painful. I remember learning what my whole lung felt like, and the floor of my lungs pushing up. I haven’t felt anything like that since, even with terrible asthma attacks. I wouldn’t wish what little I remember of it on anyone.

    1. You know that many of the anti-vaxxers believe that these diseases are minor. That it’s better to get “natural” immunity to these diseases. Hell, they even have pox parties. You are one lucky dude.

  11. I work with economically disadvantaged individuals with their healthcare concerns (part time, voluntary). At least here in Los Angeles, if you want a vaccination and can’t afford it, they give it to you. They don’t do a full background check to determine if you are on someone’s insurance or not. For example, some girls are getting Gardasil, but don’t want their parents to know about it (as if Gardasil=sluttiness or something dumb). Some county health departments are vaccinating against HPV even with tight budgets.

    Almost every health department prefers individuals to be vaccinated than not, and will do it at low or no cost. Any reasonable college or university would do the same.

    If the anonymous young woman can’t get it done, please just click on the link above, contact me, and I’ll call a friend at my local health department to see what can be done in their area. I think there’s a secret society of health department people who actually care more about helping others than in following bureaucratic rules.

  12. This is a great thing for the USA, but the UK is sorely left behind.

    When I was living in the UK, I had a baby, and tried to get the pertussis booster. It was nearly impossible. I had to track down someone at a university who said they would be able to get it for me. I ended up moving back to Australia when my daughter was 6 months old, and so ended up getting the booster there.

    So, in the UK it’s not just awareness for the public that’s required, but actually getting the NHS to start stocking the booster.

  13. There is so much about vaccines that confuse me. Why is it that natural immunity is more effective than a vaccine? How does receiving a vaccine protect the recipient from spreading it if s/he comes in contact with a sick person? Why are some administered in a series? How do the dead cultures actually work? If vaccines are so effective, cheap, easy, and painless why is it so damned hard to vaccinate everyone? Why can’t health centers stock these vaccines so that it is just ready for anyone who needs it? Is it harmful to receive multiple vaccines for the same illness, like if you lost our records are don’t know your history? Are vaccines vegan?

    I have a basic, lay-person’s knowledge of how vaccines work and I believe in their value, but I still have al these questions! Can Skepchick help me out?

    1. Check out this website, it has a lot of good answers:

      When you get sick, your immune system has not encountered before, your body takes a few days to figure out what is happening, generate the right cells to neutralize the infection, and fight the infection. Some of those immune system cells are filed away as “memory cells” and these cells fight off future infections in a fraction of the time.

      The first immune response takes an average of 7 days to build up enough strength to fight the infection. If the pathogen infects you at a later date, the immune system takes less than a day and the response is many times stronger because your body knows how to right the infection.

      Modern vaccines expose your immune system to a pathogen that is strong enough to induce a small response and generate memory cells without hurting the host.

      Some vaccines are given in a series to maximize the effect of the vaccine and make it as close to a natural immune response as possible. Some vaccines lose their effectiveness over time, which is why you need to make sure to keep up with your boosters.

      Anything that is in your body has the potential of causing a pathogenic response, whether it’s “dead” or alive. Immune cells are constantly circulating throughout your body trying to find invaders, and if they find something that is not identified as “self”, they go crazy. This is why implants have to be made with certain metals/plastics or else they can be rejected.

      Vaccines might be cheap, but they’re not free, and when you multiply the cost by however many people it can drain the funds of many low-budget health centers.

      If you’re not sure that you’ve received a vaccine, some doctors offices may perform a titer test on you to determine if you have immunity to certain pathogens. It shouldn’t be harmful to receive many of the same vaccine, but you should ask your doctor first.

      This is a good source for questions about whether or not vaccines are vegan:

      I hope that helped. I just finished up an Immunology class, so I hope I remembered enough to answer all of your questions.

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