Unvaccinated Children Likely to Get Whooping Cough

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Whooping Cough

Scientists at Kaiser Permanente Colorado's Institute for Health Research have measured the impact of whooping cough on unvaccinated children, finding they are likely to get whooping cough. The study shows that more children are likely to become infected with whooping cough as increasing numbers of parents refuse to have their children vaccinated out of fear.

Parents who believe the risk of infection from whooping cough is low should take heed of the statistics. The study showed that unvaccinated children are twenty-three percent more likely to get whooping cough, a finding that is significant.

Lead author of the study, Jason Glanz, Ph.D., a senior scientist at Kaiser Permanente's Institute for Health Research says, “This study helps dispel one of the commonly held beliefs among vaccine-refusing parents: that their children are not at risk for vaccine preventable diseases. It also shows that the decision to refuse immunizations could have important ramifications for the health of the entire community. Based on our analysis, we found that one in 10 additional whooping cough infections could have been prevented by immunization.” Unvaccinated children who are likely to get whooping cough are also likely to spread the infection, also known as pertussis.


Whooping cough is highly contagious, and can result in infant deaths. The incidence of whooping cough has increased between 1976 and 2004, but had almost been eradicated because of available vaccine. The death toll from pertussis was 140 between 2000 and 2005, and whooping cough cases soared from 1000 in 1976 to nearly 26000 in 2005.

Dr. Glanz says, "As a father of young children, I understand that vaccines can pose confusing and difficult choices, so the purpose of this research is to give parents more information to weigh the benefits and risks, and to provide pediatricians with more information to help participate in the discussion.” Proper immunization can greatly reduce the chances of childhood pertussis, which also causes uncontrolled, uncomfortable, and violent coughing.

Infants who are too young to be vaccinated are most susceptible to whooping cough, making it important to control outbreaks. The researchers searched records, confirming that children who had not been vaccinated were more likely to get whooping cough when compared to those who received their series of "3-in-1" vaccine that protects against pertussis, diphtheria and tetanus, in addition to a pre-kindergarten booster. The authors hope the study will provide valuable information for parents who want to protect their children from health risks.

Kaiser Permanente


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