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Researchers: Vaccination exemptions linked to increase in whooping cough cases


With more parents opting out of vaccinations for their kids, a new study suggests that could be leading to increased whooping cough cases. And other parents aren’t happy about the news.

“I understand their way of thinking and far be it for me to tell another parent what to do,” said KIRO Radio’s Kim Shepard on the Luke Burbank Show, “but in my mind, the problem with that reasoning is that you’re not only making that choice for your child, you’re making that choice for the entire population of children.”

Two of Shepard’s children have contracted whooping cough even after getting vaccinated, her son getting the disease before he was 3-years-old.

“He had to go in and get special breathing treatments to clear up his airway because it was constricted so much,” she said.

The new study, published this week in the journal Pediatrics, looked at children in New York state, Reuters reported. Lax vaccination requirements there make it easy for parents to opt out based on religious exemptions for personal or philosophical beliefs.

The researchers found while the numbers were small, the proportion of kids getting exemptions had nearly doubled, from 23 in every 10,000 a decade ago to 45 in 10,000 in 2011. In counties with at least 1 percent exemption, 33 out of every 100,000 children developed pertussis each year, compared to 20 per 100,000 in counties with fewer exemptions.

Disease prevention counts on “herd immunity” – stopping the spread of infection with widespread vaccinations. The study suggests children who had been fully vaccinated were also more likely to contract whooping cough where vaccination exemptions are higher.

“That’s where I have the problem,” said Burbank. “It’s the classic free rider problem. As long as everybody else gets in line with the vaccine, you’ll be okay,” he complained.

Vaccination opponents have argued for years the immunizations can cause autism or other side effects, but repeated studies have proven vaccines are far safer than the risk of contracting disease.

“I’m not saying the medical establishment is right about everything all the time,” said Burbank. “But I would just say those are people who conduct thousands and thousands of studies, they pour over the information, they are trained researchers.”

Because the study focused on New York, there’s no way to draw a direct link to Washington state.

Some parents will never feel safe about getting their kids vaccinated. But after dealing with whooping cough in her own kids, Shepard hopes more people will look at all the evidence and reconsider.

“Look at the chances that a vaccine would protect you from a dangerous disease versus the very small chance that it would cause an issue,” she said.

“Exactly. It’s math people,” Burbank agreed.

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