Vaccination gaps raise whooping cough risks

Scott Hensley

About Scott Hensley

Scott Hensley runs NPR's online health channel, Shots. Previously he was the founding editor of The Wall Street Journal's Health Blog and covered the drug industry and the Human Genome Project for the Journal. Hensley serves on AHCJ's board of directors. You can follow him at @ScottHensley.

The evidence keeps piling up to show that kids who don’t get vaccinated carry real risks of catching diseases once thought to have been vanquished.


pertussis
Photomicrograph of Bordetella (Haemophilus) pertussis bacteria from the CDC’s Public Health Image Library.

Researchers found that kids whose parents refused to have them vaccinated against whooping cough were 23 times more likely to contract the illness, which is marked by uncontrollable coughing spells, than those who got the shots.

In a study of kids in a Kaiser Permanente health plan, 12 percent of the unvaccinated kids developed whooping caught compared with 0.5 percent who got the shot. The results appear in the latest issue of Pediatrics.

Before vaccination against whooping cough became common, the disease was a major cause of childhood death. The vaccine is potent but not 100 percent effective. So it’s important to vaccinate all children to create “herd immunity” for the community, Sean O’Leary, an infectious-disease specialist at Children’s Hospital in Denver, told USA Today.

A measles outbreak in San Diego last year provided another reminder of the risk of skipped immunizations. An unvaccinated 7-year-old boy who came down with measles after a trip to Switzerland spread the infection to other unvaccinated children. The CDC reported 11 other cases linked to the boy. About 70 unvaccinated kids had to be quarantined.

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