By Ginger Ogle and Tracey Taylor

“The vaccine controversy today is one of the most important public health crises we face in America.” So said Michael Willrich,  associate professor of history at Brandeis University and author of the new book, Pox: An American History, speaking on NPR’s Fresh Air on April 5.

Willrich was not referring to smallpox, the subject of his book, but rather to the ongoing nationwide debate, among parents in particular, as to whether to give children immunizations, in particular the DTaP or Tdap vaccination which protects against Pertussis (whooping cough), Tetanus and Diphtheria.

Immunization rates have been steadily dropping in California and elsewhere. Those who oppose vaccinations are often concerned that the risks of perceived adverse events following immunization outweigh the benefits of preventing common diseases. Subsequently discredited research has also played a significant part in affecting attitudes to immunizations. A 1998 paper in the British medical journal The Lancet, which claimed a connection between the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism, prompted declining vaccination rates. The article’s author, Dr Andrew Wakefield, was subsequently found guilty of serious professional misconduct and, in 2011, the research was declared fraudulent in the British Medical Journal.

California is experiencing a whooping cough epidemic. In 2010, there were more cases than in any year since 1947. According to the California Department of Public Health, last year California had 9,477 cases of whooping cough, far higher than previous years, with 10 deaths. There were fewer than 1,000 cases a year in the 1970s, ’80s, ’90s and most of the 2000s. Berkeley reported 18 cases of whooping cough last year, and Alameda County as a whole had 422 cases.

Daxle, who lives in Oakland does not get her her 15-month-year-old daughter vaccinated. “I believe that vaccines are mostly effective at preventing certain strains of certain diseases, but not nearly as effective as we are led to believe,” she said. “Side effects are under reported, as doctors are reluctant to attribute adverse reactions to vaccines. If my child were in a situation [like group daycare] where she was exposed to a high level of disease, I would consider getting her some of the vaccines, but she isn’t. I believe that it is much more important to focus on building her immune system through proper nutrition.”

The Academy school has a 100% immunization rate for kindergartners

Whooping cough is a bacterial disease that usually peaks in late summer. It is extremely contagious and can last for months, with coughing that is severe enough to crack ribs, break blood vessels and require hospitalization. It can be deadly for babies and young children. There were 10 deaths from whooping cough in California last year –all of these were babies younger than two months, too young to be vaccinated fully.

The DTaP or Tdap (Pertussis, Tetanus, Diphtheria) vaccination which protects against whooping cough first became widely available in the 1940s. Babies must have three doses between two and six months. A total of five doses are needed by kindergarten, and a booster at age 11.

Because of the current epidemic, the California Department of Public Health is now recommending that adults be vaccinated if they are healthcare workers, work with babies, or are women of childbearing age, including pregnant women. Beginning next fall, all middle school and high school students in California will need to provide proof of the Tdap vaccine.

Pamela Hyde, who lives in Berkeley, experienced Pertussis first-hand when her husband, Julian, contracted it recently and then passed it on unwittingly to their one-year-old son. “It started as a head cold with a lingering cough, and then got worse and worse,” she said. “Frankly it was really scary. The coughing was so bad that his eyes would roll back and he passed out at least three times because of the strength of it.” The couple’s pediatrician diagnosed Julian. Their son, who was nearly through with his immunizations, only contracted a mild case.

“I’ve done a lot of homework on this issue and there is a lot of data to support immunizations,” said Hyde. “This is not like a new pesticide for which we don’t have much data. The science does not connect vaccinations to the issues parents are concerned about. This is not something to mess around with. Pertussis kills small children — and it’s not so pretty for adults.”

In California, schools are required to collect immunization records from entering kindergarteners showing that they have been vaccinated for childhood diseases such as polio, pertussis, diphtheria, and tetanus. However, parents can file a Personal Beliefs Exemption (PBE) instead, a pre-printed form that requires only a signature, saying that vaccinations conflict with their personal beliefs.

California is one of the few states that allows such easily obtained non-medical exemptions. States with easy procedures for opting out of vaccinations had a 90%  higher incidence of pertussis, according to a 2006 research study at the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

California Watch article in June 2010 found that “seven of the 12 California counties with the highest whooping cough rates also have above average rates of kindergarten students showing up to school with ‘personal-belief’ vaccine waivers”.

Marin County had 345 whooping cough cases last year, the highest per-capita rate in the state, and its rate of PBEs is more than twice the state average.

Unfortunately, while affluent counties in California tend to have the highest opt-out rates, nearly all the pertussis deaths last year were in very poor Hispanic populations where medical care is lacking, and parents are less likely to have been vaccinated as babies themselves.

The Center for Disease Control recommends a 90% immunization rate to protect an entire community. This means that even if 10% of a community cannot or does not vaccinate, everyone in the community is still protected.

How is Berkeley as a community doing in protecting its most vulnerable citizens — babies and children — from whooping cough? Last year, with 18 cases of whooping cough and based on a population of 102,743, Berkeley’s infection rate is worse than the state average of 4 infections per 100,000, but still much better than counties like Marin and San Luis Obispo, with 77 and 72 cases per 100,000 residents respectively.

However, a child’s chances of catching whooping cough may depend on which school she (or her older siblings) attend. Vaccination rates among Berkeley’s public and private schools vary considerably, from as low as 23% of kindergarten students at the Montessori Family School to 100% of kindergarteners at the School of the Madeleine and The Academy (see accompanying table). (Note that American International Montessori, Global Montessori, Growing Light Montessori, St. Joseph the Worker, Shu Ren, and Walden School are not included because schools that have fewer than 10 kindergarteners are not included in the CDPH database.)

Marin County had 345 whooping cough cases last year, the highest per-capita rate in the state

A database at the California Department of Public Health, Immunization Status of Kindergarten Students,  reveals this disparity. This database records vaccination rates for 2010 for all schools in California that have 10 or more kindergarten students.

Some of the Berkeley schools shown in the table above reported a higher rate for the DTP vaccine alone. For example, although only 66% of Washington students are up to date on all vaccinations, 79% of them are up to date on DTP. At Oxford, only 78% of all students have been fully vaccinated, but 90% have received the DTP.

This database also includes information about the number of children at each school with Personal Belief Exemptions on file. None of the public schools in Berkeley reported more than four children with PBEs, a rate of 0-4% at all schools except Oxford, which has an 8% PBE rate.

So the schools with lower immunization rates cannot be explained by PBE filings. The PBE rates at private schools range between 0 and 23%, but as is the case at public schools, there is still a sizable contingent of students who are neither fully vaccinated nor exempt via a PBE. For instance, 29% of Berkwood Hedge students have a PBE on file, but 47% of the students are not fully vaccinated. Likewise, at Montessori Family School, 77% of students are not fully vaccinated but only 23% of students have filed a PBE.

The question for a community is how one person’s decision not to vaccinate will impact other members of that community. Norma Arceo, a spokesperson for the CDPH, said: “Different diseases have different thresholds of community immunity or ‘herd immunity’. The higher the proportion of persons who are immune, the lower the likelihood that a susceptible person will come into contact with an infectious person. Promoting vaccination to stop the spread of vaccine-preventable diseases, such as measles and rubella, is one of our top priorities.  We encourage vaccination for all preventable diseases.”

Most pediatricians recommend immunizations, and many don’t accept non-immunized patients. One that does is the Bayside Medical Group in Berkeley. “Bayside is often cited on the Berkeley Parents Network as a pediatric practice which accepts non-immunized patients, which is true – yet this acceptance is not because we don’t think vaccination is important,” wrote two of the pediatricians at Bayside, Paula Brinkley, MD and Katya Gerwein, MD, in a letter to BPN. “On the contrary, all of the pediatricians in our practice believe strongly in the value of vaccination, but we want to care for all children, even if their parents hold different beliefs about vaccines than we do.”

The doctors said they have seen several serious cases of pertussis among their patients in recent months. “Yet it continues to be challenging to convince some parents to vaccinate and protect their children against this serious disease,” they conclude.

Meanwhile, Pamela Hyde said: “I’m very much a ‘to each his/her own’ type of parent, and fully support everyone doing what works for their family. But the vaccination question stands outside that realm – this is not a decision on par with toilet training or discipline principles, which would only mildly impact one’s immediate community. This is potentially life and death for not just the playgroup, but the largest community grouping we all participate in.”

Update, 04.27.11: The Montessori Family School got in touch to say that their latest figures for vaccinated kindergarteners are higher than the 2010 figures quoted in the table. “On behalf of the MFS staff, we want to thank you for your diligence in informing parents of the immunization rates for kindergartners in the Berkeley schools,” they write. “The MFS community is highly aware of the whooping cough epidemic in California and is working hard to keep our community safe. You should be aware that the immunization report that you refer to reflects our status in October 2010 and is not current. We have thirteen kindergartners at our Early Childhood campus in Berkeley. Three of our kindergartners have personal beliefs exemptions and ten are completely up-to-date on all immunization.”

Ginger Ogle is Director of Berkeley Parents Network where parts of this article first appeared. Find information on immunizing generally and rates of vaccinations in California schools on the CDPH website.

Tracey Taylor

Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...

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  1. A serious reaction to a vaccine is a good reason to get an exemption from a requirement that you be covered to attend school. Personal belief that is contradicted by scientific evidence should not be an acceptable excuse.

  2. Which is all the more reason why we need everyone ELSE to be vaccinated. There are people, like your child, who simply cannot be vaccinated due to allergies / side effects. Their protection will come exclusively from herd immunity — if everyone around them is vaccinated, the virus can’t “take hold” in the herd and spread. The problem is that as the number of people unvaccinated increases, you eventually cross a threshold that allows the virus to spread very easily. So for YOUR child’s protection, we need to require vaccinations for everyone who can get them.

  3. I thought this was a section to make comments. I provided some information. Let those who have ears, hear. Investigate further is you choose.
    Everyone has a different perspective. A 6-ft tall person sees the top of a flowering bush and sees the red flowers. A 2-ft tall person sees the lower part of the bush and sees green, as the flowers are on top of the bush. Neither is incorrect.
    A 3 ft tall person sees a bumblebee flying toward the top of the bush to acquire pollen so the bumblebee can feed itself and spread pollen to other flowers helping the bush create seed.
    Someone in another part of the garden observes an absence of honeybees, and wonders if the pesticides the neighbor has been using has harmed the bees.
    Meanwhile, some little kids are enjoying watching the pill bugs curl themselves up when touched. Oh look, a ladybug is eating the aphids on those flowers, and the yellow jacket wasps are eating the dead and dying beetles. (Some people are confused and think the wasps are doing damage, not yet understanding wasps are part of the clean-up crew)
    Red-headed finches sing, a woodpecker pecks out insects from decomposing wood, hummingbirds zip around drinking pollen from the bell-shaped purple cerinthe flowers.
    It’s an amazing symphony.
    Let those who have ears, hear; let those who have legs, dance; let those who have eyes, see.
    Happy Earth Day, everyone.

  4. More to the point, 75% of the parents at East Bay Waldorf signed a Personal Belief Exemption affidavit.

  5. Also, the article states that all middle school and high schoolers will have to submit proof of vaccinations. How does the PBE apply and if it doesn’t why? Is this misinformation?

  6. The article overlooks adverse effects from vaccines. My child had an adverse reaction to her second DTap shot and her doctor agreed she shouldn’t get more. I had spaced her vaccines apart so I could assess the effect of each one instead of dosing her with 5 shots at eights weeks of age, and so on. She got her second DTap at the appropriate interval months before K. So what are we to do? Obviously preventing her access to public school would be wrong. Obviously the authors of the article are biased.

  7. I’m a parent of a kindergartener at Washington and I think I can partially explain why the vaccination rate and the PBE rate don’t match. I spaced out my child’s vaccinations longer than the typical amount of time and so when I reported to the elementary school on vaccination’s (several months before school started) the last booster shot had not been given. Therefore, my child was listed as not being fully vaccinated although by the time school started vaccinations were complete. I’m guessing I’m not the only parent to do this. The statistics you are reporting (I’m guessing) do not reflect this updated information for current kindergarteners.

  8. The onus on proving a point is on the arguer, not on the audience. If one can’t be bothered to provide a specific reference and clear data, it’s certainly not worth my time to wade through endless rounds of Google searches trying to find out if some unsubstantiated comment is valid or not. One cannot convince others of an argument just by saying “it is so – I heard it somewhere.”

    I can understand it might not be worth your time to do this. But if it isn’t for you – who clearly cares a lot about this – then it sure as heck isn’t for me. I don’t have time to make your case for you.

  9. The real free thinkers are at the East Bay Waldorf School (20% vax rate).
    From 2008: A private school in El Sobrante is closed today because of an outbreak of whooping cough that has affected at least 16 students, authorities said.
    Classes were canceled at the 300-student East Bay Waldorf School at 3800 Clark Road because a number of kindergartners and their teachers have come down with the contagious lung infection, authorities said.

  10. I took a look. There are a bunch of 2010 articles and blog entries on sfgate about last year’s outbreak.

    Many mention the 5 year cycle. One explains the theory that an outbreak, with its many mild cases amidst the detected cases, confers about 5 years worth of immunity on enough of the herd to prevent another outbreak. After about 5 years that immunity wears off.

    The main confusion about people getting it who have been vaccinated seems to be that many articles talk about vaccinations being effective only for a few years. About 5 years, in fact. So if you got vaccinated more than 5 years ago, ha ha, you can still get it (so consider getting another round of vaccination, they say).

    Here’s one blog entry from sfgate from that era. Take it with a grain of salt, though, the author has one of those corporate conspiracy licenses to practice medicine.

  11. Sharkey, Snarky, Ms. Jackson if you’re nasty.

    No matter how you try to disguise it, the fact that you refuse to back up a single statement you’re making or even provide links to substantiate some of what you’re saying is a complete cop-out.

  12. Gee, Sharkey, or is that ‘Snarky?’
    I neither expect, nor encourage, anyone to believe anything without extensive research.
    It was last year. I provided a place to start your search.

  13. Gee, Sharkey, or is that ‘Snarky?’
    I neither expect, nor encourage, anyone to believe anything without extensive research.
    It was last year. I provided a place to start your search.

  14. If you’re going to put yourself out as the spokesperson for Vaccine Rejection you could at least have the good grace to try to respond coherently and with some sort of references to back up your viewpoint.

    Replying to intelligent, polite, well-written posts with side quips just makes you look like a nut case.

  15. So post a link to the articles. You won’t take anything the government says as fact, yet you expect us to just believe you without references?

  16. The problem is that many people alive today simply have no recollection of what a world with rampant, uncontrolled communicable disease is like. They don’t see any “benefit” to vaccines because hey, who gets sick anymore? But they fail to realize that diseases like Polio were eliminated BECAUSE of vaccines. So you get confirmation bias—999,999 vaccinations are done without a problem, and 1 vaccine causes a reaction. Of course no one goes on to a blog to yell about how well their vaccines worked, so the echo chamber hears only about the few cases of adverse reactions.

    I find it interesting that many of the people who are the most adamantly against vaccinations are probably the same people who decry “intelligent design” as bunk pseudo-science. It’s like they have this belief in science except for this one glaring exception… just doesn’t make sense to me.

  17. Perhaps your “nephew” shouldn’t have been using the Berkeley High gym showers as a toilet.

  18. TRANSLATION: “I have no idea how Polio was eliminated and I do not believe in Science.”

  19. I think the article/s were in the SFChron last year, as well as other publications. Which part of the bits I mentioned seem to conflict with your understanding? I was also in contact with one of the state vaccination propaganda employees about this issue. The presumption seems to be that if one is vaccinated, and one gets pertussis, the disease is less destructive.

  20. Socratic method of teaching/learning. Seemed a more enjoyable sentence than saying, ‘socratic one.’ What do you think? I tried ‘socratic one’ but it didn’t seem to fit as well.
    I’m not out to convince anyone. Much study, and numerous experiences with mainstream medicine have shown me it”s prudent to question information sources and studies conducted by those who profit from products studied.
    Government information sources are suspect as the various departments collaborate with one another to support the status quo. Dissent is silenced. It will be interesting to see how fast my comments on this thread are censored.
    U.S. mortality due to infectious disease declined while mortality due to iatrogenesis increased.
    The majority of comments here sound like herd mentality to me.
    I encourage people to think independently, and search more than corporate-controlled mainstream media sources.
    It is certainly comfortable to support the dominant view point. Most disconcerting to discover the disengenuosity that proliferates.
    What’s that definition of insanity? Doing the same thing repeatedly expecting different results? If someone I know lies repeatedly, I learn to question their information. Similarly with the USDA, EPA, CDC, WHO, WTO, IMF, banks and corporations (as well as those beholden to them) who’s bottom line is paying money to investors.
    What’s that question we ask our children? If all your friends were jumping off a bridge, would you?
    Wishing you all the best.
    May the bees be with you.

  21. This phenomenon an example of bad science and outright fraud on the part of Wakefield being used to scare an entire population into not vaccinating their kids, which is crazy. I was vaccinated. My family’s kids have all been vaccinated.

    As far as I am concerned, if you don’t vaccinate your kids, you shouldn’t have access to public schools. Marginal views shouldn’t drive public health policy. And I say that as someone who stays away from allopathic medicine in large part. But vaccines? I mean – come on people, that’s been a huge lifesaver for our populace over the past century.

  22. For me, the root cause is evidence. U.S. mortality due to infectious disease declined by over 95% in the 20th century.

  23. I would be very interested in seeing the article you mention, since it is in conflict with every other account of the current pertussis epidemic.

  24. I think this article actually downplays the role that Wakefield’s fraud played in elevating a formerly marginal point-of-view to the mainstream. Prior to 1998, the 20th century anti-vax crowd was almost exclusively limited to religious types. Wakefield’s fraud, combined with increasing diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder, led to a decline in uptake of virtually all childhood vaccines. Looking at the CDC’s National Immunizations Survey, you can see a clear drop-off in coverage beginning in 2000-2001, with the effects accelerated around 2005.

    Side effects of childhood vaccines are not common. The incidence of serious adverse effects for DTaP, for example, are fewer than 1 per 1 million doses. Overall infant mortality due to pertussis, on the other hand, is 2.4 per million live births. The FDA maintains a rigorous and sophisticated reporting system called the Adverse Event Reporting System (AERS). This system works. In 1998, the first rotavirus vaccine was introduced. One year later, the vaccine was pulled from the market exclusively because of adverse events reported to AERS.

    DTP was not “unsafe”; its rate of adverse events was still far lower than pertussis mortality. But DtaP is even safer, reducing adverse events by over 90%. When a medication is improved, it does not logically follow that the prior version was unsafe.

    While medical error is thought to be one of the top 10 causes of death in the U.S., these number vary widely and are extremely controversial. More importantly to the discussion at hand, “medical error” is distinct from “medication adverse events,” which are generally rare and certainly do not represent leading cause of death.

    Herd immunity is not a concept, it is a statistical fact. It’s not a business model, but rather a cornerstone of immunology, which is itself a 400-year-old technology.

  25. Thanks to Apiarist for your thoughtful comments on this issue. The reactions and potential side effects of vaccines get downplayed by most doctors. If you take the time to read the full inserts of the various vaccines , provided by the pharmaceutical producers of them, it can give you pause. They are tested on small sample populations and often for differing age groups than the vaccine is used for.

    It is an evolving process, that is worth tons of money to the Pharmaceutical companies to get their vaccines on the CDC schedule. DTP was the shot to give in the 80’s , 90’s until…oops it caused serious side effects. Sorry, folks, DTaP is the way to go now. Oral Polio was recommended until they figured out that a few people actually got Polio from the vaccine ( now they recommend IPV ). MMRV was the way to go for a bit ( hey, one less stick )…until it wasn’t ( increased risk of febrile seizures ):

    We are testing these vaccines on our children. They can prevent serious disease, but they are a risk. Why does VAERS and the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program exist? Providers are required to give parents a CDC Vaccine Information Statement for each shot, prior to giving it. These should be given out way before the actual shot so that parents can make an informed choice. Most often if the VIS is provided, it is given minutes before the shot, not a lot of time to make an informed decision.

    This should not be a pro/anti vaccine issue, it should be more about acknowledging this is an evolving process and safety should be paramount. No doubt vaccines have eliminated or reduced a number of serious diseases, but they are potentially harmful and it would serve everyone better if we were more informed about the various risks so we can make an informed decision. The information is there on the CDC website and via the Vaccine producers websites ( albeit slightly biased ).

    The CDC will show the risks can be small given the entire population, but as Alethia has seen, when it is your child in the minority, it can change your outlook.

  26. Thank you for mistaking me for Socrates, I don’t know how you came to that conclusion, but perhaps it was the same reasoning you used to arrive at your anti-vaccine philosophy. I’ll just start with the basics and will be glad to read convincing evidence to the contrary:



    Cause and effect seem to be fairly straightforward here, but perhaps there is another more conclusive reason for the statistical drop in polio cases other than the introduction of the vaccine.

  27. Conventional propaganda says polio was controlled through vaccination.
    How do you think it happened, Socrates?

  28. Wasn’t your kid at that age just a little larger than a football? Are you exaggerating a bit on the size of the swelling?
    Interesting that the doctor said 90% of immunity is conferred after the first shot. I wonder how much is added by the subsequent shots.
    Early 1980’s–A friend’s kid had a severe reaction to his second DPT shot–similar reaction with swelling (less intense than you describe,) high fever, and hardly able to move the leg that had been injected. His pediatrician denied the vaccine had anything to do with his condition because the reaction was reported more than 6 hours after the injection. Thereafter, he received only the DT shot, with the pertussis excluded, and the kid had no discernible negative side-effects with the P excluded. However, they had to go to a clinic that wasn’t entirely complicit with the pharmaceutical industry for appropriate treatment.
    Sounds like your kid’s pediatrician was better than my friend’s.

  29. Perhaps you might investigate the incidents of disease at the school as well. Smaller class sizes would lead to less exposure to disease-causing micro-organisms, perhaps? Montessori schools are not being defunded. They might even have enough staff to clean bathrooms, a well-documented vector for disease. My nephew, who attended Berkeley High in the late 80’s to early 90’s, reported regularly finding human feces in the gym showers.
    Also, public school does not tend to encourage individual thinking.

  30. Apiarist, let’s start with Polio. It’s a disease that is essentially unheard of any more, at least in the developed world. How did that happen? Magic?

  31. And vice-versa. What is the root cause of the vaccine believers philosophy?
    There’s some interesting psychology in people who continue to believe information put forth by spokespeople of a corporately controlled governmental system. Disregarding myriad documented instances of mendacity, such as the declaration of safety for those who helped clean up after the trade center in new york was bombed, the herd continues to support and align with the proven corrupt.

  32. Thompson, I think it would be interesting to get to the root cause of the vaccine deniers psychology. I personally view those folks as similar to fundamentalists of any religion–take your pick–they believe in the sanctity of something that has no evidence to back it up. Despite scientific evidence to the contrary, these mostly highly-educated folks make this choice not to vaccinate, and refer to the children that do get the vaccinations as “the herd”, whom they depend on to ensure that their own children won’t get any of the illnesses the vaccines address…It’s not very moral behavior, yet speak to any one of these parents, and they will adamantly defend their decision…there’s some really interesting psychology there that I wish I could understand.

  33. Wakefield studied the effects of the MMR vaccine, not the DPT vaccine. Why is his research referenced regarding the pertussis vaccine? It’s a totally separate issue. His research was in 1998.
    Wakefield’s main thrust is that it is not safe to give multiple disease vaccines simultaneously.
    There was controversy about vaccines for decades prior to 1998. Side effects were common, and largely unreported. Or side-effects are declared to not be side-effects. If symptoms became noticeable after 6 hours, the symptoms were declared to not be caused by the vaccine.
    Is it logical to assume there was a problem with the pertussis vaccine which prompted the changing to DtaP? Side effects remain underreported, ignored and dismissed as non-existent.
    Physicians who speak out against drug-based therapies are ostracized, often losing their jobs, as their employers are corporations beholden to the pharmaceutical industry. Safe remedies for many medical conditions exist, but are not studied. Why is that?
    Follow the money…not only the propaganda.
    One of the leading causes of death in this country is iatrogenic conditions.
    Scientists who study gmo crops and find them to be dangerous are quickly fired, ostracized and black-balled. This is on-going.
    The concept of herd immunity is interesting, but not proven. Those who tout the concept are beholden to the industry that manufactures and sells the vaccines.
    It is important to retain our ability to think as individuals, avoiding herd mentality.

  34. Previous article on the subject of this epidemic stated that almost all of the people who came down with pertussis had been vaccinated and were up on their booster shots. Does that mean the vaccine is ineffective?
    Out of 20,000,000 people in California, 9,477 is not a high number of cases. What was the population in 1947?
    Pertussis has a oft-reported 5 year cycle, so it’s not surprising to hear of a 2005 outbreak.
    The plethora of mendacity seminated from the protected power clergy (including the medical/pharmaceutical industry) behooves us to be circumspect.

  35. anon: The problem is that if too many people make “risky decisions for their family,” they do put others at risk by denying herd immunity to the community as a whole. If those who opt out could magically be limited to a small percentage of the community, we wouldn’t have a problem. The difficulty is that failure to immunize (for reasons of belief, fear of side effects, or lack of access to health care) tends to occur in clusters. Loss of herd immunity is, ultimately, one more example of the tragedy of the commons. It is impossible to blame any one individual for the loss, and this obscuring of responsibility makes it all the easier for individuals to choose not to vaccinate themselves and their families.

  36. Hello,
    After reading up on the issue I decided to vaccinate my children 100%, plus we vaccinate the entire family with the flu shot. Still, I think there is room for reasonable people to make different decisions about which vaccines to take, and when. I also think that schoolmates’ vaccination data should be public information, since these decisions affect the safety of the community at large. I’m OK with someone making risky decisions for their family as long as they take steps to not put others at risk.

  37. Thank you for this well written, informative article.
    The vindictive side of me hopes that health insurance companies will make parents who opt out of vaccinating their children sign a form stating that the health insurance company will not be responsible for the medical charges that may result from their child contracting a preventable illness.These illnesses are serious business and I wish there was a way to convince more parents that vaccines are necessary. I breathed a big sigh of relief when my son completed the first series of Tdap.

  38. Thanks Lexy–the a in DTaP stands for acellular? It was scary to see my 2 month old baby become so ill years ago from the first vaccination, but he was ultimately fine. It was even scarier to see my neighbor’s 3 month old baby come down with whooping cough and spend 5 days in intensive care recently. She nearly died. She had been vaccinated with the first in the series, too. The doctor was delayed in the diagnosis because he didn’t think it likely the baby would have contracted whooping cough. Probably most pediatricians are now on alert for the possibility.

    There was a rash of whooping cough cases at King Middle School in 2005.

    In the late 1980s there was an infamous case in Berkeley: a family with twins had a horrific experience in which one baby had severe seizures immediately after the 3rd DPT shot and became completely mentally disabled. It gave many new parents around here pause when going in for vaccinations. That is not to excuse the parents who choose to not vaccinate, but I do recall the fear it generated. It is wonderful that the improved vaccine has far fewer adverse outcomes.

  39. I know each child is different and their reaction to the vaccine will be varied, but just wanted to let you know that my new baby got this vaccine along with a few others at 6 weeks old and he had no reaction at all, not even mild fever. I was also vaccinated immediately after giving birth along with my parents who are over 65 and none of us had an adverse reaction.

  40. If you included two or more links, it might have gotten flagged for review and will have to wait until being cleared by the moderators before it becomes visible.

  41. The WSJ also touched on this story with a local angle, citing a Berkeley mother who’s very active in Albany Little League:

    The pockets of low vaccination rates here may have rippled out to locals like Jennifer Lombardi. The Berkeley mother of three says she didn’t suspect pertussis when her 14-year-old son began coughing this spring. But over Memorial Day weekend, “he came bursting into our room at four in the morning with his hands around this neck making this crazy sound,” Ms. Lombardi says. “He couldn’t breathe.” Doctors diagnosed him with pertussis, and put everyone in the entire family—who are all vaccinated—on antibiotics.

    Last week, though, Ms. Lombardi and her 11-year-old son developed coughs. Their doctors, she says, told them to expect to cough for the next three months.

    p.s. Futher to a local Waldorf school, a neighbor pulled two of her children from the school for several weeks rather than immunize when given the “either/or” ultimatum after an outbreak a couple of years back.

  42. Alethia: the newer DTaP vaccine recommended by the CDC has fewer/milder adverse reactions than the old DPT shot. Your child’s adverse reaction to the DPT was serious and is good reason to have opted out of additional shots. It is also a very rare reaction. The fact that some people, like your child, should not be vaccinated due to adverse reactions, allergies, etc. is all the more reason why those who can be vaccinated safely should be vaccinated. Your child’s immunity will fade as time passes (I was vaccinated as a child, but had whooping cough in my late 30s). Once you son is no longer protected by his childhood vaccination (assuming it is still not safe for him to have a booster), he will depend on herd immunity for protection. It is in his interest for vaccination levels to be high, and you should encourage people to vaccinate themselves and their children in order to protect others in your son’s position.

  43. You should consult your family pediatrician about these concerns and none of the following is medical advice. My understanding is that vaccines provide good, but by no means 100% protection for individuals in situations where they may be exposed to the pathogen in question. Vaccines vary in their effectiveness; and while some are extremely effective, their greatest efficacy is reached through herd immunity–as was mentioned above. Ideally, all members of a family would be fully immunized. Having one sibling immunized may offer some small amount of protection, but it does nothing to protect the unvaccinated individual from any other unvaccinated family-member or outside person. Moreover, even a vaccinated individual could still potentially bring someone else into contact with the pathogen of concern.

    Again, it’s not intended as medical advice, but having everyone’s immunizations and subsequent boosters complete and up to date is probably the best route.

  44. Okay, this is sort of terrifying to see that a bulk of the BUSD elementary schools are in the 50-70% “up-to-date” range. Is a child who is fully immunized at any risk in these schools? What about the risk to siblings who are not fully immunized; that’s the place where it seems there might be the greatest risk.

  45. Can anyone shed light on how the pertussis vaccine has changed over the past few decades? My younger son had a severe reaction to his first pertussis shot in the early 1990s–very high fever, injection site swollen to size of a football, and more. Our pediatrician told us, given his reaction and the fact that 90% of the immunity is conferred after the first shot, that we should not continue with the series.

  46. If you don’t have your vaccinations up do date, you shouldn’t be allowed to send your kid to school

  47. It’s pretty clear that parents who choose not to vaccinate their children are relying greatly on the vast majority of parents that do, and these are the children with whom their kids will most likely associate, both in school and on the playground. It is disingenous to refrain from vaccinating while depending on others to do so, in order for your child to stay healthy. I’m as skeptical as the rest of them, but this is a non-issue. We are fortunate to live in a time when these vaccinations have eliminated most childhood contagious diseases. If you lived 100 years ago, you would be more well aware of the number of infants and children who succumbed to these epidemics. And if everyone followed these fringe parents, we would definitely see a resurgence of these losses.

  48. Seeing that only 23% of the students at Montessori are vaccinated is really shocking.
    I was planning on sending my daughter there because I like the teaching style at Montessori schools, but such a low rate of vaccination seems like a health risk.

  49. I understand what you’re saying—I think referencing the Lancet article and the purported “reasons” given by many parents is useful. On the other hand, I disagree with the way that the particular quotation was used in this article. It isn’t surrounded by rebuttal, or used as an example of incorrect reasoning. Rather, it simply sits there surrounded by scientific / factual statements (preceded by statistics on California, followed by information on Whooping Cough).

    I think it is pretty universally known that there are many “vaccine deniers” out there (see, e.g., Jenny McCarthy), though some readers would be unfamiliar with the background to the Lancet article that sparked this all (thus it’s useful to include).

    In the end, my concerns are two-fold. First, this person’s statement is given almost equal column space as the paragraph explaining the roots of vaccine denial. Second, the quotation just sits there, sandwiched between factual statements regarding the prevalence of whooping cough cases in California, and an explanation of just what whooping cough actually is. In my opinion this gives Daxie’s quotation “credibility by proximity,” especially when coupled with the lack of clear rebuttal to his/her definitively incorrect views.

  50. This is an excellent article as both a discussion of the overarching issues and an examination of how they play out at the local level. The overwhelming safety and benefits of vaccinations can scarcely be overemphasized. Nevertheless, I doubt it will be long before we see some comments by the antivax wackadoos.

    This article touches on the importance of herd immunity. Having a high proportion of your population vaccinated inhibits epidemic disease; if the proportion vaccinated for any particular disease falls below a certain threshold, that disease could very quickly go from rare to ravaging–with very dire consequences.

    Get yourself and your family vaccinated, it’s one the easiest and most effective ways to see not only to their safety, but to the safety of everyone in the community.

  51. I disagree, Thompson. I agree with you absolutely on the clear scientific
    consensus on the effectiveness and safety of vaccines. I think that comes
    across clearly in the article (as you acknowledge). But it’s also important
    to get some understanding of why on earth — given the scientific evidence
    — some parents still refuse to get their children vaccinated. If we didn’t
    report that — and we don’t credit it with any authority whatsoever — then
    there would be this mystery at the heart of the story.

  52. The inclusion of the quotation from this “Daxie” person is, in my opinion, an example of the dangers of “get both sides of the story” journalism. While this article is far better than most on the subject of vaccines, I don’t think a responsible press has any business wasting (digital) ink on the nonsensical ramblings of parents whose decisions pose a real and unacceptable risk to the community. In the *real* scientific community there is no dispute about the effectiveness of vaccines—and to allow this Daxie to air his/her dangerous and incorrect views to a large audience is irresponsible journalism.