OGDEN -- Weber-Morgan Health Department will visit schools through the end of April to offer sixth-graders the whooping cough vaccine.
The Utah Legislature has mandated since 2010 that all children entering seventh grade be vaccinated. Students who are not vaccinated will be sent home.
The problem came to a head in the fall, when 65 students from Mount Ogden Junior High School were sent home because of an outbreak.
Amy Carter, a health department communicable disease nurse, said 17 cases of whooping cough were reported in October and November.
"The first year, we had a little outbreak, and it was in a group of students that hadn't been vaccinated," said health department spokeswoman Lori Buttars, "so this is something that we came up with."
Whooping cough, officially known as pertussis, is a bacterial infection that causes a severe cough and congestion. It is normally spread through the tiny droplets dispersed during coughing fits. The coughing can lead to vomiting and is known for a distinctive whooping sound.
"The 'whoop' is something we see more in kids than adults," Carter said.
Infants and the elderly are at the greatest risk if they contract the illness.
Recovery can take several months, Carter said. "It is sometimes known as the 90-day cough."
Antibiotics have the greatest effect during the first few weeks, but most people are unaware they have the illness.
To prevent the spread of the illness, the health department has partnered with Midtown Community Health Center to try to visit every elementary school in the Weber, Morgan and Ogden school districts, said immunization program manager Michelle Singleton.
Teachers are welcome to get a booster as well.
"Our goal is 100 percent protection for the kids," Singleton said. "We just want them to be protected, and the teachers as well."
Officials want to make sure all sixth-graders are vaccinated by the end of the year and ease the burden on parents.
"We would rather immunize them than have to send them home from school," Singleton said.
In addition to helping the vaccinated students, Carter said, the drive creates a cocooning effect that protects younger family members and others who cannot be immunized because of allergies or other factors.
According to the health department, most insurance companies and Medicaid can be billed for the $45 charge.
Those without health insurance or whose insurance does not cover immunizations are eligible for the Vaccines for Children immunization program, which charges $6 for vaccines.
A consent form and the schedule of school vaccinations are available at http://www.webermorganhealth.org/cocooning.php.