Whooping cough, or pertussis, a highly infectious respiratory disease once considered doomed by science, has struck Washington State this spring with a severity that health officials say could surpass the toll of any year since the 1940s, before a vaccine went into wide use.
Although no deaths have been reported so far this year, the state has declared an epidemic and public health officials say the numbers are staggering: 1,284 cases through early May, the most in at least three decades and 10 times last year’s total at this time, 128.
The response to the epidemic has been hampered by the recession, which has left state and local health departments on the front lines of defense weakened by years of sustained budget cuts.
Here in Skagit County, about an hour’s drive north of Seattle — the hardest-hit corner of the state, based on pertussis cases per capita — the local Public Health Department has half the staff it did in 2008. Preventive care programs, intended to keep people healthy, are mostly gone.
And the problem is two-fold: cuts in less-expensive preventative care in order to afford much more expensive testing and treatment for whooping cough now only assures more cases will be coming to treat later, requiring more cuts.
But the tinfoil hat anti-vaccine crowd on both the far left and the far right are just as responsible for this outbreak. You don't immunize your kids? Surprise! They get sick!
The pertussis vaccine is commonly given in childhood, and many states require it for children of school age. But Washington State, according to a federal study last year of kindergarten-age children, had the highest percentage of parents in the nation who voluntarily exempted their children from one or more vaccines, out of fear of side effects or for philosophical reasons.
So-called underimmunization — in which children do not get the full series of vaccinations — could also be a factor in compounding the outbreak, said Mary Selecky, Washington State’s secretary of health.
Last year, the Washington Legislature passed a law requiring parents to prove that they had consulted a physician before declining vaccinations for their children.
“We had the easiest opt-out law in the nation until last year, so what we also had was the highest percent of parents opting out,” Ms. Selecky said.
And now you have the highest incidence of whooping cough right now. See how this works, folks? Anti-vaccine silliness and preventative care cuts don't just affect one parent's kids, but all of them. This is just stupid how this was allowed to happen.
This is where government needs to step in. And it is, at a much more ridiculous cost than vaccines would have been. This is why America's health care costs are so high and why health care reform laws, when they fully kick in two years from now, are necessary.