A nine week old Idaho girl died Friday of complications from whooping cough according to Reuters. She was being treated for the disease at a hospital in Pocatello, Idaho; however, her situation worsened, and she was flown to the University of Utah medical center for further treatment as her condition worsened.
There appears to be a significant outbreak of whooping cough in the Northwest US since the beginning of the year. Washington state has had 1132 cases so far this year, a pace running far ahead of last year, when the state had 961 cases for the whole year. Montana has had nearly 100 cases in 2012, while Idaho has had 31 cases.
According to Emily Simnit, a spokeswoman with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, “when you have something as tragic as the death of an infant, it underscores the fact that there are really nasty, severe illnesses that vaccines can prevent.”
The whooping cough immunization is a component of the DPT (diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus) vaccine, which is typically given at the age of 2 months. So the infant probably was not immunized against the disease, and probably got it from an unvaccinated individual, or possibly from someone with lapsed immunity. It could have even been a sibling or another adult. However, there is no indication that the parents were opposed to vaccinating the infant, so this is probably just horrible luck, though the prevalence of the disease in those areas increased the chances of any infant contracting whooping cough.
Idaho and Washington are two of about 20 states that allow for philosophical exemptions to vaccinations. Because of the drop in vaccination rates, herd immunity, where enough people are vaccinated that the disease has little possibility of being transmitted from an infected person to an susceptible one, has probably developed some cracks that allow the diseases to start spreading more quickly.
There are few legitimate reasons to refuse to get vaccinated. There should be medical reasons for not being vaccinated. However, refusing to get children vaccinated because of unscientific, unproven, and ridiculous reasons should stop. Children shouldn’t die of diseases that can be eliminated. One preventable death is unacceptable and unconscionable.