The Download: Immunization exemptions
Whooping cough, an infectious bacterial disease that causes uncontrollable coughing, used to be one of the most common childhood diseases in the United States and a major cause of childhood deaths. Then a vaccine was developed and the disease became something of an oddity. But not in California.
The Left Coast state is coping with an epidemic of whooping cough, also known as pertussis. Through Nov. 30, according to the California Department of Public Health, there have been 7,297 confirmed, probable, and suspected cases of whooping cough, the most in 63 years. Ten deaths have been reported, nine of them infants who were generally too young to be immunized.
Jessica B. Mulholland, writing in Governing magazine, says California is most likely facing an epidemic because of policies that make it very easy for parents to exempt their children from receiving a vaccination for personal or religious reasons. Citing a study by the Journal of the American Medical Association, Mulholland says it’s easier to claim an exemption in California than it is to complete the immunization form.
Colorado is another state that makes it easy for parents to exempt their children from vaccinations. From July 1 through Nov. 13 of this year, 229 whooping cough cases were reported, almost triple the average number for that time period.
While both California and Colorado have seen sharp spikes in whooping cough cases, Mulholland suggests Colorado has fared better because of state programs focused on vaccinating health care workers, new parents, and people who work with small children, effectively creating a circle of protection around unprotected infants and children.
Massachusetts parents can claim immunization exemptions, but they have to state in writing that it conflicts with their “sincere religious beliefs.” It doesn’t seem to be a major issue in Massachusetts and the number of cases of whooping cough here doesn’t appear to be spiking. I could find no stats on the Department of Public Health’s website.
Against the backdrop of rising concern about whooping cough in some states, the US Supreme Court is reviewing a case brought by Pittsburg parents who are suing the drug maker Wyeth. The parents allege a diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis vaccine their daughter received in April 1992 caused her to suffer seizures which still plague her today.
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