Whooping cough cases rise as parents opt out of vaccine

June 3, 2013 by Serena Gordon, Healthday Reporter
Whooping cough cases rise as parents opt out of vaccine
In New York, study found unvaccinated kids were 14 times more likely to get illness.

(HealthDay)—Parents who opt out of vaccinating their children are putting their own kids and others around them at risk of serious illness, finds a study conducted in New York.

Almost twice as many parents in New York sought religious exemptions from vaccination in 2011 compared to 12 years earlier, and cases of whooping cough () increased simultaneously, the study found.

"The reason for the rising rates for religious exemptions is unknown. Our preliminary results suggest that it's not for religious reasons alone," said study senior author Dr. Jana Shaw, an assistant professor of pediatrics at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse.

Counties with exemption rates of 1 percent or more experienced higher rates of whooping cough in both unvaccinated and vaccinated children—33 cases per 100,000 children on average compared to 20 cases per 100,000 in counties with lower exemption rates, the study found.

Statewide, the rate of exemptions grew from 0.23 percent to 0.45 percent between 2000 and 2011, Shaw said, noting that the total number is still low. "But some counties are much higher—up to 5.58 percent," said Shaw, whose results were released online June 3 in the journal Pediatrics.

New York State requires that children attending its schools be immunized for , tetanus, whooping cough, polio, , measles, mumps, and (), according to background information included in the study.

The state's allows children to attend schools without the required vaccinations if the family has religious reasons for not doing so. Implementation of the exemptions is left up to the principals in each school, Shaw said.

Whooping cough is a highly contagious that attacks the . In 2012, the United States had the most whooping cough cases since 1959—41,000 illnesses and 18 deaths, mostly in infants, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

One reason for the resurgence of whooping cough is that the newer vaccine—which causes far fewer side effects than the old vaccine—doesn't work for as long as the older vaccine. Because of this, it's crucial that children receive their vaccines and boosters on time. Delaying vaccination increases the risk of whooping cough.

In New York, the average annual rates of whooping cough ranged from eight cases per 100,000 children to 124 cases per 100,000 children, depending on the county, the study found.

But unvaccinated children were 14 times more likely to develop whooping cough than vaccinated children—302 cases per 100,000 unvaccinated youngsters compared to 22 per 100,000 who had been vaccinated, the study found.

The study's authors suspect not all of the exemptions are for purely religious reasons, but that parents who have strong beliefs about vaccines or concerns about vaccine safety may use the religious exemption so they don't have to have their children vaccinated.

"It's troubling from an ethical standpoint," Shaw said. "If you have gotten an exemption for your child, not only are they at higher risk of [], but you're putting other at risk—even those who have been vaccinated."

Shaw said it's a sensitive issue, and exemptions should not be granted for personal reasons. "But principals are not experts on religion, so they may not be comfortable challenging the parents," she said.

Dr. Kenneth Bromberg, chairman of pediatrics at the Brooklyn Hospital Center in New York City, said the findings raise an important question. "We have to decide whether we think as a society that it's OK to opt out of immunization because of religion," he said. "People may be using the religious exemption as a surrogate for their anxieties about vaccination."

A second study in the same journal issue found that 39 percent of babies whose doctors didn't suggest giving necessary vaccinations didn't get their immunization on time.

"The longer a parent delays a vaccination, the more days of undervaccination you've got in the population," Bromberg said. "That means more risk for that kid and for others."

Explore further: More evidence whooping cough protection wanes

More information: Learn more about vaccination laws and exemptions from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Related Stories

More evidence whooping cough protection wanes

March 11, 2013
(HealthDay)—Despite high levels of vaccination, the rate of whooping cough in the United States is at its highest level in decades, and one reason may be that immunity from the vaccine diminishes each year after the fifth ...

2012 was worst year for whooping cough since 1955

January 4, 2013
Health officials say 2012 was the nation's worst year for whooping cough in nearly six decades.

New whooping cough strain in US raises questions

February 6, 2013
Researchers have discovered the first U.S. cases of whooping cough caused by a germ that may be resistant to the vaccine.

Panel: All adults should get whooping cough shots

February 22, 2012
A federal advisory panel wants all U.S. adults to get vaccinated against whooping cough.

CDC panel: all pregnant women should get whooping cough shot

October 24, 2012
(HealthDay)—All pregnant women should be vaccinated against pertussis, also known as whooping cough, preferably in their last trimester, a panel of U.S. advisers recommended Wednesday.

Kindergarten vaccines close to target levels: CDC

August 23, 2012
(HealthDay)—Most kindergarten children in the United States are up to date on their vaccinations, a new government report finds.

Recommended for you

Cycle of infant reflux signals a call to help mothers

February 14, 2018
Western Sydney University research has found that first-time mothers with mental health issues – in particular, maternal anxiety – are five times as likely to have their baby noted as having reflux when admitted to hospital.

Safe-sleep recommendations for infants have not reduced sudden deaths in newborns

February 14, 2018
An analysis of trends in sudden unexpected infant death (SUID) over the past two decades finds that the drop in such deaths that took place following release of the 1992 American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) "back to sleep" ...

Most children with sickle cell anemia not receiving key medication to stay healthy

February 13, 2018
One of the greatest health threats to children with sickle cell anemia is getting a dangerous bacterial infection—but most are not receiving a key medication to reduce the risk, a new study suggests.

Premature babies' low blood pressure puzzle explained

February 13, 2018
Scientists have discovered crucial new information about how a foetus develops which could explain why very premature babies suffer low blood pressure and other health problems.

Babies face higher SIDS risk in certain states

February 12, 2018
(HealthDay)—Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) claims the lives of some 3,500 babies in the United States each year, but its toll is far heavier in some states than others, health officials report.

Study suggests opioid addicted newborns do better in room with mother than in NICU

February 6, 2018
A team of researchers affiliated with the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice has found evidence suggesting that newborn babies addicted to opioids do better when they are kept in hospital rooms with ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.