Pertussis outbreak spurs reconsideration of vaccination rules

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In July, the CDC reported that the U.S. was on track for the worst whooping cough (pertussis) outbreak since 1959. And so far this year, an estimated 18,000 cases of whooping cough have already been reported about half of which occurred in infants younger than three months. Because such young children can t yet be vaccinated, they must rely on herd immunity, which occurs when there are high immunity rates within the whole community.

Unfortunately, however, some parents are not having their kids immunized because they mistakenly believe that shots may lead to adverse health effects. And while some states are strict when it comes to enforcing vaccination, others are more lax and allow parents religious and philosophical exemptions the latter of which remains the law in 20 states.

Now, a new bill proposed by Sacramento pediatrician and Assembly member Dr. Richard Pan aims to reverse this troubling trend by requiring that parents meet with a health care provider before being granted a philosophical waiver. Such a law already went into effect in Washington state last year, where the proportion of kindergartners with vaccine exemptions dropped from 6.0 percent to 4.5 percent after the law was enacted.

Unfortunately, while lawmakers in Vermont attempted to eliminate the state s philosophical exemption earlier this year, the measure failed. Instead, parents are required to receive educational materials before being allowed to opt out of vaccinations.

But ACSH s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan doesn t believe such actions will be enough to persuade some parents. It s difficult to imagine that parents who are already dead-set on not vaccinating their children will suddenly change their minds after speaking with a doctor, she says. In fact, they may purposely seek out irresponsible or ignorant physicians who already share their belief against immunization.

And although such fearful parents do exist, ACSH s Alyssa Pelish thinks that some may just need more clarification on the topic. Parents can be confused about what the truth is about vaccinations, she says. It may be that learning the facts from an informed health care provider will help them make the right decision.

Yet despite the proven public health benefits of vaccines, some politicians still maintain that it is a parent s right to exempt their children from receiving the shot. However, to ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross, such rhetoric makes absolutely no sense. A parent s right to intervene on their child s behalf stops when those decisions adversely affect the health of other children and members of their community especially those who rely on herd immunity to remain safe and healthy.