NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Vaccination Fears Make for Return of Whooping Cough

February 9, 2011

Vaccines, which save millions of lives every year, are one of the most successful public health interventions in the history of modern medicine.  Among the diseases that they prevent is the whooping cough.  Why, then, is that sickness making a scary comeback in California, which is currently weathering its largest whooping-cough epidemic since 1947, with over 7,800 cases and 10 deaths in 2010?  Mainly because more and more parents, worried about the vaccine's supposed side effects, are choosing to delay vaccinating their children -- or not to do it at all, says Paul Howard and James R. Copland, director of the Center for Medical Progress and director of the Center for Legal Policy at the Manhattan Institute, respectively.

This public health calamity comes at a time when the Supreme Court is considering a lawsuit against whooping cough vaccine manufacturer Wyeth.  If successful, the suit would make epidemics much more likely and undermine public confidence in vaccines even further.

  • Parental concerns about vaccine safety are mostly wrongheaded.
  • Plaintiffs' lawyers, eager to translate junk science into jury awards, have long spread misinformation about the dangers of vaccination.
  • They've been especially successful among the affluent and well-educated, presumably because those groups have greater access to vaccine pseudoscience.
  • Last October, the National Committee for Quality Assurance issued a report finding that vaccination rates among privately insured two-year-olds declined by nearly 4 percent in 2009 -- even as rates among enrollees in Medicaid increased.
  • In fact, 91.2 percent of children in Medicaid received the measles-mumps-rubella vaccination, compared with 90.6 percent of children in private plans.

In California's wealthy Marin County, public health official Fred Schwartz reports that parents are "signing waivers to opt out of immunizing kindergarten-bound children."  About 7 percent of all children entering kindergarten in Marin County are unvaccinated, the seventh-highest percentage among California's 58 counties.  It isn't surprising, then, that Marin County accounts for 15 percent of all California whooping-cough cases, despite having just 0.67 percent of the state's population, say Howard and Copeland.

Source: Paul Howard and James R. Copland, "The Whooping Cough's Unnecessary Return," City Journal, February 2, 2011.

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