Flickr photo by Unicef Sverige
Two quirks in California law run counter to the efforts of public health officials who are hoping to put a lid on the rapidly spreading whooping cough epidemic in the state.
California is one of 11 states that do not require children to get a booster when they enter middle school, which is when the shots usually given during childhood tend to wear off.
In an abundance of caution, officials are asking everyone age 7 and above to get a booster, with particular emphasis on those who are around infants.
So far this year, six young babies have died of the ailment, which causes fits of coughing so severe that those with the tiniest lungs can suffocate.
Scholars pointed out another aspect of California law that lends to the spread of the ailment: It is uniquely easy here for parents to cite personal beliefs as a basis for skipping routine vaccinations when kids enter kindergarten.
Some states require a letter explaining the basis decision to exempt a child from vaccines or a notarized form, according to a 2006 study published in the Journal of American Medical Association. Not so in the Golden State, according to the study:
For example, California offers a personal-belief exemption whereby the parent simply signs a pre-written statement on the school immunization form. This personal-belief exemption is available to anyone regardless of the nature of their beliefs (religious or philosophical) and it is easier to claim this exemption than to complete the school immunization form that requires a health care clinician to obtain the child's medical record and transcribe the dates of vaccine administration.
The report concluded that states with the easiest exemption processes see 90 percent more whooping cough cases than other states.
A 2009 study in the journal Pediatrics found that children who are not vaccinated for whooping cough are 23 times more likely to get it.
Fighting the disease from the Capitol, though, may kick up opposition from monied and educated parents.
Research has shown that parents who cite personal beliefs in exempting children from vaccines are older, wealthier and more educated than parents who vaccinate.
The more educated cadre are perhaps also most likely to peek at the vaccine-reaction horror stories cataloged by Centers for Disease Control.
They may also follow proceedings of the judicial system set up by the National Vaccine Injury Act, which compensates parents whose children are injured by vaccine side effects.
Anecdotes, however, do not make science. As such, doctors who have studied the history of vaccines and their role in eradicating scourges like smallpox and polio are likely to be in favor.
One survey found that nearly 40 percent of pediatricians feel so strongly about vaccines that they would refuse to treat families that decline them.