Dell Med students are administering free whooping cough vaccines to medically underserved areas in Austin

Tien Nguyen

Dell Medical School students are administering free whooping cough vaccines in medically underserved Austin areas with a grant from the Texas Medical Association’s “Be Wise — Immunize” program.

“The goal is to try to improve vaccination rates in Texas through educating physicians and the public about the latest vaccination practices and changes, as well as helping places like Dell Medical School give vaccinations in their local community,” said Texas Medical Association outreach coordinator Tammy Wishard, who manages the “Be Wise — Immunize” program.

The initiative began when Katie Jenson, a first-year student at Dell Medical School, saw Austin Public Health’s 2017 Austin Critical Health Indicators report. The report showed a disproportionately high number of cases of pertussis, or whooping cough, in the Rundberg area.

“It was the neighborhood that had the highest cases of pertussis in all of Travis county,” Jenson said. “This was surprising to me, and it looked like it was an access issue.”


Jenson said there could be many barriers to getting whooping cough vaccines in this particular area of Austin, including costs.

“This is a really expensive vaccine and just from talking to people in the area, people were saying that if they went to another pharmacy in town, it would cost $70,” Jenson said.

After receiving a grant from Texas Medical Association, Jenson, her teammates, the UT School of Pharmacy and others held a vaccination training class to train 16 medical students in vaccine administration.

Adult patients are receiving vaccinations at the Gus Garcia Recreation Center on Saturdays through May 4.

Jenson said children in Rundberg can get the vaccine for free from the Vaccines for Children program. Jenson said Dell Med students are using the cocooning strategy — administering the vaccine to adults, who may carry the disease but not show symptoms, to decrease transmission to children and infants who are primarily affected by pertussis. So far, 11 vaccines have been administered.

Jenson and her team are not certain as to why the Rundberg area has such a high number of whooping cough cases compared to other places in Travis Country.

“Katie is one of those people who sees something she doesn’t like and tries to figure out ways to fix it,” said Thomas Varkey, first-year Dell Medical student and one of Jenson’s teammates. 

Jenson said she and her team are in the process of developing and getting approval for a research study to answer some of these questions.