Whooping Cough Outbreak. Refusal To Vaccinate or Loss of Immunity?

Image by Sanofi Pasteur via Flickr

The Kennebec Journal states that its editorial opinion is that if parents won’t vaccinate their children for whooping-cough, then the state “needs to step in.”  What is unclear is if the editorial board believes the state should merely remove any philosophical or religious exemption to vaccination or whether the state should actually remove children from such unfit parents.

Without engaging in the civil liberties issues involved, let us examine the facts of the situation.  We have more cases of diagnosed whooping-cough here in Maine.  Last year we had 53, this year so far we’ve had 163.

So clearly pertussis vaccination rates have dropped in Maine, right?  Well, according to the Bangor Daily News report, the children in the Dexter Schools were getting “updated booster shot(s)”.  According to state epidemiologist Stephen Sears, as reported in the Daily News back in September, “All of the children who got whooping-cough had been immunized against it when they were younger.”

Oh, so where are these evil non-vaccinating parents we need to railroad into getting vaccinations for their children?  There are a few, but they do not affect the herd immunity in Maine.  The issue of whether those few parents should have the right to refuse vaccination is a red herring, a distraction from the underlying issue.

Again, according to the Bangor Daily News September article:  “A recent study found that immunization may weaken as soon as three or four years after completing the routine childhood vaccine series recommended by the U.S. CDC, significantly earlier than previously thought.”  It is this issue that we need to address.  The vast majority of Maine children have been vaccinated, but those vaccinations may no longer protect them from getting those diseases.  That is our current public health crisis in regard to vaccination.

In a few moments of online research, and not even needing to resort to medline, I was able to ascertain the true, alarming issue.  It troubles me that the KJ editorial board did not engage in even a cursory fact check before assuming a culprit.  In doing so, they missed a much bigger, and more important, public health issue.

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