It still astonishes me when I hear that nearly eradicated diseases are making a comeback in industrialized nations where the diseases and their symptoms can be almost entirely avoided.  Whooping cough, featured in a previous article, is one of those diseases.  It is particularly dangerous because it affects infants who are too young to be vaccinated

California Whooping Cough EpidemicChristopher Wanjek recently wrote an article outlining a recent trend with respect to whooping cough.  The trend is disturbing:  the anti vaccination movement is having an effect on the number of whooping cough cases in the United States… they are increasing.  And people are suffering for no logical reason.  It’s so bad, in fact, that in the state of California, they have declared a whooping cough epidemic.

A summary of the article is outlined below:

Whooping Cough Makes Whooping Comeback

By Christopher Wanjek, LiveScience’s Bad Medicine Columnist

Whooping cough, named for the high-pitched “whoop” a person makes when inhaling, has made a comeback, with an incidence rate up by a whopping 2,300 percent since 1976, the year when fear of the vaccine began to take hold and vaccination rates started to plummet. In 1976 there were only about 1,000 reported cases; in 2005, the most recent peak, there were nearly 27,000 reported cases (and likely over 1 million unreported cases), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

With outbreaks that cycle every three to five years, the respiratory tract infection might peak again this year, and the CDC recommends you get a booster shot soon.

In June, California declared a whooping cough epidemic after the death of five infants. So far there have been nearly 3,000 reported cases across six states, according to the CDC, a sevenfold increase compared with this time last year. Whooping cough season doesn’t really kick in until the fall.

A reversing trend

Whooping cough, known in the medical trade by its more conservative name, pertussis, is nearly completely preventable through vaccination. Pertussis was once a leading cause of infant death, with over a quarter million cases and about 8,000 total deaths annually in the United States during the peak years in the 1930s, just before the advent of the vaccine in the 1940s, according to CDC statistics.

By the 1970s, through vaccinations, whooping cough was as endangered as the whooping crane, with only about 0.000005 percent of the population infected. Unfortunately, fears that the DPT vaccine (a combo for diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus) could cause brain damage in rare cases — not entirely unfounded — gave rise to the anti-DPT movement in many industrialized countries.

At issue was the “whole-cell pertussis” element of the vaccine, since replaced in most countries, including the United States, with an “acellular” formulation (which includes purified proteins from the Bordetella pertussis bacteria), indicated by the “a” in DTaP, a common abbreviation for the vaccine these days. While never conclusively associated with brain damage, the original formulation was tied to other serious albeit rare side effects, such as allergic reactions and seizures.

Hype and consequences

The impact of the anti-vaccine movement was dramatic. In Great Britain, immunization rates for whooping cough dropped from over 80 percent to 33 percent (and in some regions to less than 10 percent) from 1974 to 1977. Then the epidemic hit. In 1979 there were over 100,000 cases and 36 deaths worldwide. In Japan in 1975, amidst public worry, the government suspended mandatory pertussis vaccines for infants; the 1979 epidemic killed over 40 children there. The same scene repeated itself in other countries, as well.

In June 2009 researchers reported in the journal Pediatrics that children who didn’t receive the whooping cough vaccine were 23 times more likely to contract pertussis. In the June 2010 issue of Pediatrics, researchers found no connection between the vaccine and seizures.

Herd mentality

The recent upsurge of whooping cough cases is not entirely the fault of the anti-vaccine movement. For the pertussis incidence rates to remain low — even among the vaccinated, because the vaccine isn’t 100-percent effective — there needs to be herd protection, in this case over 90 percent of the entire population immunized, to minimize the number of carriers.
Fewer than 85 percent of children are fully immunized against pertussis, according to the CDC. Some parents simply forget to keep up the multi-shot schedule. And for adults, vaccinated as children, the strength of the immunization has waned.

To curb the epidemic, the CDC is recommending that adults get a booster shot. Most adults have never received one and have never been told to get one.

Going natural is perhaps not the best bet. While pertussis is rarely deadly for otherwise healthy adults, struggling through the aptly named “100-day cough” isn’t particularly pleasant, with its uncontrollable fits of violent coughing around the clock.

Also, in the August 2010 edition of Clinical Infectious Diseases, James Cherry of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA addresses a common myth that living through a bout of pertussis offers lifetime immunity. Not so. Protection from the vaccine and booster lasts longer, although no more than 10 years.

One limiting factor for a fully immunized population could be the fact that, for adults, the booster shot might not be covered by medical insurance.

* Update…………………………………………………………

After researching this topic much deeper, it appears that there is no clear evidence that the antivax movement is responsible for this particular epidemic (source below). Even skeptics can get caught up in hype! I do apologize and have modified the title of this article. Many thanks to those who posted for pointing this out!


  1. In response to your first post, I publish all posts that aren't spam. The point of this blog is to promote critical thought, not to silence people who think differently than I do. Don't assume I will not publish your posts because your reply is controversial.

    In response to your second post. I am suggesting that the anti-vaccination movement is scaring people in to NOT getting their kids vaccinated. And as a result, people are contracting diseases that are easily preventable. Also, adults (both anti-vax proponents and not) are not getting their required booster shots, thus reducing the effectiveness of the vaccine.

  2. Your suggestion about the impact of any particular group is proven false by the date I've noted above. The official information from the CDC indicates that nearly 94 percent of infants and toddlers (in California) have been vaccinated at least three times, against pertussis, as of 2009. The lacking compliance regarding booster shots in older populations, is due to the fact that A) Tdap is a newer recommendation/vaccine for teens and adults, and B) Dr.s aren't promoting it like they should.

    I think you should issue a retraction to this biased, anti-scientific, fear mongering above.

  3. I'll email Christopher Wanjek to get clarification with respect to his statement that fewer than 85 percent of children are fully immunized against pertussis, according to the CDC.

    I will not retract that the anti-vaccination movement has had an impact on vaccination rates, because it has. Re-read the paragraph above called "Hype and Consequence".

    Perhaps, in the case of California's epidemic, it's just the regular cyclical increase of whooping cough cases. I will grant that. But, I have no doubt, and neither does the scientific community, that the antivaccination movement has swayed public opinion.

    There's a few good articles on Discover Magazine's site: and and

  4. I should clarify that I do actually agree with your points A and B, and in particular, B – doctors are not doing a great job reminding patients to get their boosters.

  5. "But, I have no doubt, and neither does the scientific community, that the antivaccination movement has swayed public opinion."

    The CDC data is clear. We're vaccinating our youngest children at very high levels, and have been since the 1990's. Thus, I'm not sure how one can suggest that public opinion has been swayed in any meaningful way?

    The title of your piece is misleading given you suggest that parents are opting out of vaccination because of any so called movement. In your defense, there are several like articles that crop up from time to time, with similar assumptions. Reporters imply, suggest, assume. But facts are facts. We're vaccinating our children, in record high numbers, in spite of having a conversation on vaccines.

    Below I've provided you with more information on the data. It's generally a couple years behind (as the information is verified) so the numbers are from 1962-2007. The fact that the data is a bit behind lends itself to the ongoing myth that "parents are not vaccinating because of Jenny McCarthy!" It's simply not true.

    "I'll email Christopher Wanjek to get clarification with respect to his statement that fewer than 85 percent of children are fully immunized against pertussis, according to the CDC."

    I think I know the answer. When there is a new vaccine recommendation, such as the newer pertussis booster, the data may be skewed as a new segment of the population is automatically non-compliant. So, if one looks at vaccination rates for babies and toddlers in California, there is compliance level of roughly 94 percent as of December-09. If we look at the next age group, the number is closer to 73%. If one averages the two numbers we get the number that is being used to mislead. I see this tactic in other articles on this subject as well. Some ignore the data on pertussis alone, and pull in other vaccine stats, such as Gardasil, to imply a reduction in vaccine coverage.

    Thank you for hearing me out and posting my response. You appear to be a person of integrity. I am sorry that I assumed otherwise, initially.

  6. Anonymous: Thank you for your posts. I have done further research into the outbreak – of which there is no clear cause. I have modified the title of this article, and placed an update at the end of the article. I do appreciate the feedback! Cheers, relInt

    This is one of the sources I have now reviewed:

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