The National Academies

Vaccine Exemptions May Have Increased Rates of Whooping Cough

By Lisa Pickoff-White

November 2 - Rates of whooping cough were almost 90 percent higher in the 19 states where parents can exempt their children from vaccinations for personal beliefs than in states that allow exemptions only for medical or religious reasons, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. In states with “easy” exemption procedures -- such as only having to sign a form citing religious reasons -- the same higher rates of the disease occurred.

Researchers found in a prior study that 69 percent of parents who opted out of vaccinating their kids did so because they feared the vaccine would do more harm than the diseases it prevented. The number of exemptions granted for nonmedical reasons grew by 6 percent per year between 1991 and 2004.

Whooping cough is a highly contagious bacterial infection of the respiratory system that causes breathing difficulties and severe fits of coughing. Anyone can become infected, but it is more dangerous, and potentially fatal, for babies and young children.

The Institute of Medicine has issued many reports on concerns about the safety of childhood immunization. Vaccines and Autism found that neither the mercury-based vaccine preservative thimerosal nor the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine is associated with autism. Vaccinations and Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy states that the evidence does not support a causal link between sudden infant death syndrome and either the diphtheria, tetanus, and whole-cell pertussis vaccine or exposure to multiple childhood vaccines.

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