Cincinnati Children's Blog

Whooping cough epidemic linked to people who refuse vaccines

California’s whooping cough epidemic could be the worst in 50 years. As of late July, the state reported nearly 2,200 cases of the bacterial infection, including seven deaths — all infants younger than two months. And now whooping cough is on the rise in other states, too.

Why? Because people aren’t getting vaccinated. It happened in Great Britain and Japan, and now it’s happening in the United States. Wherever there’s a drop in whooping cough (pertussis) immunizations, there’s a resurgence of the disease.

One recent WebMD article noted that the California county with the most cases of whooping cough also has a relatively high number of people who refused the vaccine.

I know parents are doing what they think is best when they avoid vaccinating their children. But many times, they base decisions on inaccurate information. Here are the facts:

Fact 1: Vaccines are necessary.
Smallpox is the only disease we’ve eradicated. The others are still out there, waiting to attack a susceptible child. Outbreaks of whooping cough, Haemophilus Influenzae type b, mumps and measles in the United States have been linked to vaccine avoidance.

Fact 2: Vaccines do not cause autism.
A recent series of court cases heard by the U.S. Office of Special Masters concluded there’s no link between the two.

There’s also no link between autism and thimerosal, a preservative used in vaccines. Thimerosal is an ethyl mercury, a compound that’s quickly cleared from the body. That’s different from methyl mercury, which does build up in the body and can damage the nervous system. Methyl mercury and ethyl mercury may sound the same. But, as Dr. Ari Brown says, the difference is like methyl alcohol and ethyl alcohol: one is antifreeze; the other is Bud Light.

Fact 3: The standard regimen of vaccines in the United States contains fewer foreign antigens in 2010 than ever before.
While our current regimen does require more vaccinations, it contains the fewest antigens ever. That’s because the whooping cough vaccine is now “acellular,” meaning parts of the pertussis bacteria have been purified for inclusion in the vaccine.

The acellular vaccine decreases the risk of fevers associated with the whole-cell vaccine, and is still very effective at preventing whooping cough.

Children up to age six should have the “DTaP” vaccination, which also includes immunity to diphtheria and tetanus. The version for older children and adults is called “Tdap,” and it requires booster shots at least every 10 years. Immunity does fade over time, so parents need to keep track of their own immunizations as well as their kids’.

Being vaccinated is the best way families can avoid being part of the growing epidemic.

Listen to Dr. Frenck discuss the importance and safety of vaccines in this recent Impact Cincinnati program on WVXU radio.

Robert W. Frenck, Jr, MD, is board certified in both pediatrics and infectious diseases. Dr. Frenck is an acknowledged authority in infectious diseases and has authored over 60 articles and book chapters on the subject. His current research interests include therapeutic and vaccine clinical trials with a special interest in enteric diseases.


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