Steven Salzberg, at Forbes Magazine, has reported that the USA is experiencing the worst whooping cough epidemic in 70 years. In addition, the CDC has stated that as of August 4 2012 (pdf), there are 21,000 cases and 10 deaths in the United States from whooping cough(Bordetella pertussis) year-to-date. Wisconsin has the highest rate of infection, while Washington, as I have discussed on a number of occasions, has one of the highest total number of pertussis infections.
But what’s to blame for this huge increase? Some individuals keep pushing the myth that the pertussis vaccine (Dtap or TDaP) is ineffective or even making the outbreak worse. Well I debunked that myth, along with many others.
Salzberg, in the Forbe’s article, says that, “The great northwest of the U.S. is known for its natural beauty. It’s also a high-tech region with a highly educated public – not exactly the kind of place one would expect to fall for the anti-science rhetoric of the anti-vaccine movement. But it has. The anti-vaxxers have convinced a frighteningly high number of parents in Washington State to withhold vaccines from their children.” The Seattle Times reported in 2011 that “Washington parents are choosing not to vaccinate their kindergartners at a rate higher than anywhere else in the country.”
It’s ironic that this vaccine denialism is centered in Washington state in spite of the fact that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, located in Seattle, Washington, is one of the world’s leading sponsors of vaccine research. Bill Gates has been rather blunt about the antivaccination lunacy, stating “…and so the people who go and engage in those anti-vaccine efforts — you know, they, they kill children. It’s a very sad thing, because these vaccines are important.”
Salzberg also implicates the media in pushing the anti-vaccine misinformation:
Sometimes it comes straight from the media itself, such as the credulous, anti-science, anti-vax CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson. Other times it comes from talk shows, magazines, or even airline advertisements that provide a platform for anti-vax celebrity doctors such as Jay Gordon (who gained fame as Jenny McCarthy’s son’s doctor) and “Dr. Bob” Sears, who has published his own “alternative” vaccine schedule in a book filled with anti-vaccine nonsense. These characters continue to claim, at every chance they get, that vaccines cause autism (as Gordon has said, repeatedly), or that they cause other harms, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. They use their medical degrees and their faux concern “for the children” to frighten parents into keeping their kids unvaccinated.
There is evidence that there is an increase in cases among children in the 13-14 age group, soon after getting a booster shot of Tdap or DTaP vaccine at the age of 11-12. It may be that either pertussis is mutating to a new subtype or it already existed in the wild, but as the CDC states, “Vaccination continues to be the single most effective strategy to reduce morbidity and mortality caused by pertussis. Vaccination of pregnant women and contacts of infants is recommended to protect infants too young to be vaccinated.”
Salzberg snarks effectively with “This good advice is seriously undermined when misinformed doctors such as “Dr. Bob” Sears directly advise pregnant women not to get the whooping cough vaccine, as he did in the Huffington Post. (Hint: it’s a good rule to be very skeptical of celebrity doctors who go by their first name.)”
By the way, if you’re getting any information, especially science from the Huffington Post, your anti-pseudoscience radar is broken.
Once again, Vaccines Save Lives.