The Rise of Whooping Cough

Mill Valley pediatrician offers her perspective on the recent outbreak of pertussis in Marin.

The significant number of parents choosing not to vaccinate their children in Marin has allowed pertussis (whooping cough) to enter into our community. This is tragic, because pertussis is 100 percent preventable.

Pertussis would not be able to come into our community if more parents chose to vaccinate. All of the theoretical and scientifically invalid risks that parents use to justify their decision to not vaccinate their children are NOT REAL, but this whooping cough outbreak IS REAL. Children are sick. Parents are missing work. Infants are at risk of dying and having a life-threatening illness. All of this is real, but preventable.

The recent rise in whooping cough is a direct result of Marin losing its Herd Immunity, which is the immunity of a group or community and the resistance of that group to invasion and spread of an infectious agent.

Recently in my office, I have seen more cases of whooping cough each week than I have seen in my entire 8 year career! The majority of cases are in children who are 8-10 years old; these children are between their five-year whooping cough booster and the 11-year booster, so their individual immunity to pertussis is waning over time. This is a natural and normal occurrence, and the reason that there is an 11-year booster shot. None of these kids would be exposed to whooping cough while they await their 11-year booster shot if more parents in Marin were responsibly vaccinating their children. We as a community would then have herd immunity, and pertussis wouldn't be here.

This is our opportunity to educate those parents who haven't vaccinated their children, especially those who use this pertussis outbreak as proof that the whooping cough vaccine doesn't work. The pertussis vaccine does work and the outbreak is precisely because they have not vaccinated their children, forcing all of the other children to live in a community with no herd immunity.  If anything productive can come from this whooping cough outbreak, it will be that more parents vaccinate as they realize the real risk of a disease like whooping cough.

Dr. Rachel Bauer is board certified and a Fellow of the Academy of Pediatrics. She practices at Prima Medical Group's Pediatric Practice (Prima Kids) in Mill Valley. 

Joan Bullen March 19, 2014 at 05:06 PM
I have to disagree here. My daughter was immunized and still got whooping cough. She was on antibiotics for a week and then allowed back to school. The health department called me and recommended that anyone that had continued contact with her needed to be treated. When I called her job, her school and her friends I was completely dismissed. There are so many kids walking around with this that their never going to get rid of it unless the health department gets aggressive with treatment.


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