South L.A. health clinic draws hundreds

Thirteen-year-old Stephanie Cota pulled up her sleeve and glanced at the needle.

"Is it gonna hurt?" she asked.


"You'll feel it, but you look like a strong girl," said Yadira Guerra, a licensed vocational nurse. "Just turn the other way."

When Cota started 7th grade this month, school officials told her she needed a whooping cough vaccine. On Saturday, she and her family came to a free health fair at Jesse Owens park in South Los Angeles to get the immunization.

Hundreds of families attended the event, which included the vaccinations, along with vision, hearing and dental screenings. Residents could also get their blood pressure and cholesterol checked, as well as receive health information about how to quit smoking and prevent lead poisoning. And children received free backpacks and school supplies.

Stephanie winced when the needle went in, but then smiled and told Guerra that it only hurt a little.

Stephanie's mother, Desiree Campos, said that being able to get the vaccine and other health checks at the park was so much easier than going to her doctor's office. "I have six kids, and I have to find transportation" to get to the doctor, she said. "This is a blessing."

State Sen. Roderick Wright (D-Inglewood), a co-sponsor of the event, said that the healthier children are, the better off they are going to be in the long run.

"If we are able to get them back into school as healthy as they can be, then they have a much better chance of being successful," Wright said.

Several public and private agencies, including Mattel Children's Hospital at UCLA and Charles Drew College of Medicine and Watts Health Center, participated in the event. Anthem Blue Cross offered the whooping cough vaccines.

All students starting 7th grade need proof of the whooping cough vaccine before they can start school, according to the state. The immunity wears off over time, which is why the booster shot is so critical. Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a bacterial disease that infects the respiratory system. This year, nearly all of the students are showing up with their vaccine, said Nelson El Amin, medical director of L.A. County's immunization program.

After a surge of cases in 2010, California has seen a steady decline, according to Gil Chavez, epidemiologist for the California Department of Public Health. There were 9,154 whooping cough cases in 2010 and 2,795 in 2011. There have been about 460 suspected cases this year, according to the state.

Denise Martin's two children were up-to-date with their vaccines, but she came to the fair so they could get their teeth and eyes examined. "I want to get them checked to make sure they're doing well," she said. "Going to the emergency room is expensive."

Audrey Wince said she and her five children come to the event every year. Wince said she was thankful for health screenings because she learned that her blood pressure was high and that her children needed glasses and dental work.

"They have got a lot of cavities," she said. "I got to get them to the dentist immediately."