At one month old, Jenny Murray's daughter was fighting for her life. The baby came across a young adult who seemed to have a cold and a cough.
"She breathed on my child and infected her with pertussis," said Murray, who works as a radio host on V-100. "They said,'Whooping cough? Nobody gets whooping cough. I've never heard of anyone having it.'"
Thousands of kids get sick from preventable diseases every year because they're not getting basic vaccines, according to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Services. Officials in the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health confirm a child died from whooping cough in December 2013. A few weeks later, another child died from influenza. Vaccinations exist for both illnesses.
State officials and health professionals visited Sacred Heart Early Learning Center in Charleston on Monday to recognize National Infant Immunization Week. The 20th anniversary comes on the heels of an outbreak of mumps and measles in Ohio. Murray shared the story of her daughter, who survived a month-long battle in the hospital. Twenty one years later, she now studies broadcast journalism at West Virginia University.
West Virginia has the second lowest rate of immunizations when it comes to children under two years of age, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Laws require children to get vaccinations upon entering pre-K or Kindergarten, but not before. Dr. Letitia Tierney, the commissioner for the WV Bureau for Public Health, recommends infants get their first round of shots at two months.
"These children are at risk for getting preventable diseases that can cause death or long-term permanent damage," Tierney said.
Professionals attributed the "immunization gap" to poverty and access.
"West Virginia is the most rural state in the United States," said Jeff Necuzzi, the Director for Immunization Services. "We have significant portion of the state that are medically undeserved."
A recent report from the CDC indicates immunizations given to infants will prevent 732,000 deaths, 322 million illnesses, and 21 million hospitalizations--saving nearly $295 billion in upfront expenses, such as medical bills.
Necuzzi said he hopes the bureau recruits more health care providers to join a federal program known as Vaccines For Children. It guarantees free immunizations for kids enrolled in Medicaid, lack of insurance, or those on insurance plants that don't cover vaccinations.
Since 1994, the Mountain State has received millions in dollars for funding from Vaccines for Children, Necuzzi said. Now, the state receives $19 million for the program every year. The allocation is based number of children eligible for the program.
Officials said ensuring children receive the recommended immunizations by 2 years old is the best way to protect them from 14 serious childhood diseases including Diphtheria, Hepatitis A/B, Influenza, Measles, Rotavirus, Haemophilus type B, Tetanus (Lockjaw), Mumps, Pertussis (Whooping Cough), Pneumococcal Disease, Polio, Rubella (German Measles) and Varicella (Chickenpox).
If you have questions about your child's vaccination record, visit this online registry.
Mandi Cardosi also contributed to this report.