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By Richard Asinof
BARRINGTON – More than 250 residents received a vaccine shot against pertussis, a highly contagious bacterial disease known as whooping cough, within the first hour that the shots were administered at a clinic set up by the R.I. Department of Health in the Barrington High School cafeteria beginning at 4 p.m. on Jan. 12.
“Most of the first people waiting at the doors were elderly,” said Jessica Bessell, employee of the Wellness Company, a for-profit company based in Providence that administered the clinic under contract for the state health department.
A steady flow of children and adults continued to stream into the clinic at 6 p.m., receiving shots of the Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis) vaccine to protect them from whooping cough. The shots were administered by a row of nine RNs employed on per diem basis. Flu shots were also offered for those residents who wanted them.
One of the Wellness Company per diem employees, Robert Picard, a retired RN with more than 50 years of nursing experience, said the clinic was a very appropriate response to the threat.
“Most adults are not aware that they should be getting a booster as they get older,” he said.
The clinic is scheduled to continue on Friday for a second day of vaccines offered from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the high school.
The outbreak of whooping cough in Barrington at two schools – with eight students at Hampden Meadows Elementary School and the Barrington Middle School diagnosed, according to the R.I. Department of Health – is the second outbreak of whooping cough in Rhode Island this school year.
On Nov. 15, 2011, one case of whooping cough was reported involving a student at the Gilbert Stuart Middle School in Providence, prompting the R.I Department of Health to hold a similar vaccine clinic at the school on Nov. 21.
In 2010, there were 44 reported cases of whooping cough, a typical year, according to the R.I. Department of Health.
Because whooping cough is a highly contagious disease that is spread through the air by coughing, “vaccination is the best prevention,” said Dr. Michael Fine, director of the R.I. Department of Health. “This clinic is part of [our agency’s] ongoing effort to prevent the further spread of pertussis in the Barrington community.”
One of the groups of individuals highly recommended to receive the vaccine was anyone who worked at school or childcare facility. Dawn Rocco, a teacher at the Barrington Early Childhood Center preschool, which has about 76 students, was among those who received the vaccine. “I did this on my own because I work with kids,” she said. “It’s a good thing to do.”