When you think of the dangers posed today by pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough—actually, why would you? There’s been a vaccine for pertussis since the 1940s. Before then, an average of 178,00 cases were reported in the United States each year. By 1976, that number had dropped to less than 1,000.
But 40 years later, in the first 8 months of 2014, Los Angeles County alone has over 1,300 reported cases of whooping cough. The state of California has 8,000 cases and has declared an epidemic.
We’re not at this point because of some strange new mutated strain of the disease. No, whooping cough is back because more and more parents—particularly on the affluent West Side of Los Angeles—are refusing to have their children vaccinated.
For decades the Diptheria, Tetanus and Pertussis (DTaP) vaccine has been plagued by accusations that it causes comas, seizures or brain damage in a small percentage of children. Innumerable studies have been done and shown that’s not the case; new forms of the vaccine have been created to prevent any such risks.
Still, parents in growing numbers are dismissing all that. On the West Side of Los Angeles 9 percent of parents have turned in “personal belief exemption” forms that allow their children to attend school without receiving DTaP or the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccinations. At some schools, such as Kabbalah Children’s Academy in Beverly Hills or the Waldorf Early Childhood Center in Santa Monica, the rate of refusal is over 50, even 75 percent.
That’s despite the disease being highly contagious, very painful and potentially deadly for infants. In The Hollywood Reporter last week, Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles infectious disease specialist Dr. Jeffrey Bender described cases he’s seeing: “They cough so hard, it turns into vomiting and broken ribs; they end up intubated, to ventilate their lungs.”
What’s happening in Los Angeles is part of a national problem. The Centers for Disease Control has over 17,300 reported cases of the disease in 2014, a 30 percent increase over the same period last year. In recent years Vermont and Washington State have each had epidemics. Pertussis has the chilling honor of being the only vaccine-preventable disease in the United States associated with a rising number of fatalities.
You can’t criticize parents for trying to protect their children. Who can say with 100 percent certainty that these vaccines might not cause harm in a few cases? No one. So better safe than sorry.
Except clearly this is not safe. And there’s no such thing as 100 percent certainty, not with any drug or any medical procedure.
In point of fact children today are more likely to suffer brain damage on the monkey bars at school than from a DTaP. If only their parents would stop reading anti-vaccine propaganda on the internet for a moment and think about that.