Bend Park & Recreation District’s board of directors have a problem. A child attending a district summer camp recently came down with whooping cough and may have exposed more than 100 children before being diagnosed.

The district has no vaccination policy or requirement for participants. The board must, at least, have a discussion if it should do more to keep the general public safe from dangerous diseases.

Most children in Oregon are vaccinated against whooping cough as children as part of the series of five DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, or whooping cough) shots they receive beginning as 2-month-old babies. Booster shots are given when they’re 11 or 12 years old.

But unlike some other vaccines, a full set of childhood whooping cough shots doesn’t provide immunity for life, and, in fact, starts losing effectiveness in as little as two years. Because the disease can be life-threatening in infants — about half of infants under age 1 who catch whooping cough will be hospitalized — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that pregnant women receive DTaP shots in their third trimester of each pregnancy. In addition, family members, day care workers and other adults who are around young babies also should get DTaP boosters. Adults who come down with whooping cough will be ill, but the disease generally is far less dangerous for adults than children.

Unlike school districts, park districts don’t have an exclusion day after which unvaccinated children can be barred from participating in activities. That doesn’t mean they should simply ignore the threat unvaccinated children can pose to others, particularly children who, for health reasons, cannot receive vaccinations safely. The district could simply adopt the same weak standards that Oregon has for its public schools. Finding the right response may take more than one board discussion.

The district’s mission is in fact: “To strengthen community vitality and foster healthy, enriched lifestyles by providing exceptional park and recreation services.” Surely, it doesn’t want to endanger the health of children because of slack requirements.

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