WILLISTON, N.D. – With an influx of new students moving to the Oil Patch and North Dakota on track to double the number of reported whooping cough cases this year, health officials are taking action.
The North Dakota Department of Health and several other health care partners are teaming up to offer mass vaccination clinics in Williston and Watford City this fall to minimize the spread of preventable diseases in schools.
As northwest North Dakota schools see jumps in enrollment, health officials are unsure of the vaccination status of new students, said Kirby Kruger, director of the Division of Disease Control for the Department of Health.
“They really are the best way to prevent illnesses,” Kruger said of vaccines.
But getting a clinic appointment in some Oil Patch communities can take weeks due to the population boom.
“Health care is overwhelmed in the area, and we’re not able to get all the kids in,” said Javayne Oyloe, executive officer for the Upper Missouri District Public Health Unit in Williston.
The Department of Health is partnering with several health care entities from western North Dakota to set up mobile clinics in Williston and Watford City aimed at school-aged children.
“We’re just trying to make it as easy as possible to get those kids vaccinated,” said Sherry Adams, site commander and executive officer for the Southwest District Public Health Unit based in Dickinson.
Cases of pertussis, or whooping cough, are up nationally, as well as in North Dakota, but can be prevented with a vaccination, Kruger said.
North Dakota has reported 129 cases of pertussis so far this year, with 100 of those cases affecting people under age 18, according to the Department of Health.
For all of 2011, North Dakota had 70 cases of pertussis.
The clinic also offers all other vaccinations that are required for children. Clients only pay the administrative cost, not the cost of the vaccine, Adams said. If a family can’t afford that, the cost will be waived, she said.
The first clinic held Saturday at the Williams County Fairground in Williston only saw six children by mid-afternoon, despite widespread advertising.
Health officials planned the vaccination clinic based on projections that Williston Public Schools could see up to 1,200 new students this fall. During the district’s first week, it reported an increase of about 230 students.
Watford City’s first clinic held Friday had two children.
Clinics will be offered again in Williston on Sept. 29 and Oct. 13. Watford City will hold clinics Sept. 28 and Oct. 12. Times and locations will be advertised closer to those dates. People in the Williston area can tune to 1620 AM to get more information.
Due to the low turnouts, the clinics may be modified to also offer flu vaccines to adults.