Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Washington's Whooping Cough Epidemic Is A Reminder

May 15, 2012

Washington State is grappling with a whooping cough epidemic, a disease that can cause extreme coughing, making it difficult to breathe. It’s serious enough to cause death in rare circumstances. This is a scary situation in the state, for all parents--and especially for parents of babies. But whooping cough is preventable with a vaccine, given to infants but available as a booster for older children and adults.

 
The emergency in Washington State serves as a reminder that all of us, no matter where we live, want to be able to protect our children from diseases that are preventable.

As a member of the communications team at the Gates Foundation, much of my work involves vaccines, but my kids have had some trouble understanding what I do all day. I’ve tried to make it real, explaining that I use stories and pictures to help make sure children in the poorest countries can get vaccines so they don’t get sick. I knew that had backfired when I overheard my youngest tell a friend: “My mom is inventing a malaria vaccine.”

The other night, as least one aspect of my work made sense at home.

My girls came home with the news that a local high school, here in Seattle, was closed because a great many students were falling ill and they feared it was whooping cough.  My oldest asked questions about the disease. Finally my youngest piped up: “Mommy, did you also make sure to give me vaccines so I won’t get sick?”

In Seattle, we’re all feeling a little more connected to what happens in the faraway communities the foundation aims to serve. We are worried about our children. We are uncertain there’s enough vaccine supply to give booster shots to the people who need them. The emergency will pass, but it serves as a reminder that all of us, no matter where we live, want to be able to protect our children from diseases that are preventable.

 
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