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Free Crow Wing County immunization clinic set for sixth-graders

A rule change requires students entering the seventh-grade to have two immunizations and Crow Wing County is providing vaccine for free.

Now all the April 2 free shot clinic needs is about 1,000 sixth-graders.

“We want to help parents get their students ready for next year,” said Gwen Anderson, health and social services division manager.

With whoopping cough outbreaks in recent years and cases of meningitis, changes are adding pertussis (whoopping cough) to the current tetanus/diphtheria vaccine and adding a meningococcal meningitis vaccine.

Through federal funding, the county is getting the vaccine for free and won’t be charging for the shots. The vaccines may be used for children regardless of insurance coverage.

Whooping cough can pose a serious threat to infants and newborns. People who may not be sick themselves can carry the illness to an infant. Health officials are pushing for broader use of the meningitis vaccine because cases of meningococcal disease can be so severe. The county reported many who get the disease die from it and many others are affected for life.

Tetanus causes painful muscle tightening and stiffness in the body and is sometimes called lockjaw because muscles are so tight in the head and neck people can’t open their mouths. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, tetanus kills about one in five people infected. Diphtheria may cause a thick coating to form in the back of the throat, leading to breathing problems, paralysis, heart failure and death. Whooping cough can cause severe coughing spells, which can lead to weight loss, incontinence and rib fractures. According to the health department, up to two in 100 adolescents and five in 100 adults with pertussis or whooping cough are hospitalized or have complications like pneumonia.

Diphtheria and pertussis are caused by bacteria and spread from person to person, typically as individuals cough or sneeze, the health department reported. Tetanus enters the body through a wound such as a cut or scratch.

“Before vaccines, the United States saw as many as 200,000 cases per year of diphtheria and pertussis and hundreds of cases of tetanus,” the health department reported. “Since vaccination began, tetanus and diphtheria have dropped by about 99 percent and pertussis by about 80 percent.”

In addition to protecting students and potentially others they come in contact with, the county reports it benefits from the mass shot clinic by working with other emergency preparedness partners in practicing its plan for a public health emergency.

In this way, the Crow Wing County Community Services Health Division is able to be better prepared for a real public health emergency like the H1N1 vaccinations in 2009. To that end, the Minnesota Department of Health is paying for the free clinic through an emergency preparedness grant.

All Crow Wing County sixth-graders are invited to take advantage of the free clinic. The free clinic is planned from 1-6 p.m. April 2 at Forestview Middle School in Baxter.

Since this is also a mock public health emergency exercise, the county noted there is also a public service component to participating students and their families by helping agencies prepare for a real event. Anderson said the clinic for sixth-graders will appear seamless for community members, but behind the scenes health care providers will be able to practice their roles.

The free clinic is a unique event in the county’s immunization history in order to encourage as many sixth-graders as possible to attend. Students may get one vaccine or both, depending on immunization needs.

Assisting the county health department with the exercise are Brainerd, Crosby-Ironton and Pequot Lakes school districts, Essentia Health, Cuyuna Regional Medical Center, North Memorial Ambulance, Brainerd Lakes Surgery Center, the sheriff’s department and community services, along with volunteers.

Anderson noted all the partners working with the public health department for the event. She said: “It really is the framework of how we can respond in an emergency.”

RENEE RICHARDSON, senior reporter, may be reached at 855-5852 or Follow on Twitter at

Renee Richardson
Richardson is a Pacelli High School graduate from Austin, Minn., who earned an applied science degree from the University of Minnesota, Waseca, with an emphasis in horse management. She worked extensively in the resort industry. She received an associate’s degree from Central Lakes College, where she was editor of the Westbank Journal student newspaper, as well as a summer intern at the Dispatch. She graduated from St. Cloud State University summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and interned at the St. Cloud Times covering business while attending SCSU. She's been with the Brainerd Dispatch since 1996.
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