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Whooping Cough Cases Up 88 Percent

The number of whooping cough - or pertussis - cases has increased 88 percent in Franklin County. And the big jump occurs as the lingering debate continues over vaccination safety. WOSU reports a new state law requires seventh graders to get a pertussis booster vaccine this school year. But some parents still balk.

Despite outbreaks of whooping cough and measles, some parents continue to choose not to have their children vaccinated - some for religious reasons, others fear a link between vaccines and autism or other developmental problems. Although many medical researchers say there is no evidence of a connection.

Roberta Platt, from Lockbourne, was leaving the Whetstone Library in Clintonville with her two children ages 10 and 12 who are home schooled. It was not until her husband became ill and the children had to attend public school that she says they got their first shots.

Platt said her family has seen Tourettes as well as another form of autism, so she wanted to wait until her two youngest children were older to get them vaccinated. Even then Platt remains skeptical about vaccination safety.

"I believe there's a cover up on what's happening with vaccinations. However, it's a two-edged sword. You can't deny the fact that polio has been largely eradicated because of vaccinations. So I'm grateful," she said.

Lilia Ramirez from Columbus holds her nine month old daughter outside the library. Her 11-year-old son is nearby. Ramirez was not aware of the newly required whooping cough booster, but she said once her son reaches seventh grade he'll be getting it. And in Ramirez's words "it's risky" for parents not to have their children vaccinated.

"It's valid for them to do what's right for their family. But I think they have to also consider the implications it has for the children that their children are around and associated with," Ramirez said.

Starting this year Ohio requires the booster vaccine called Tdap for all seventh graders. It's similar to the vaccine they received as infants and pre-schoolers. It offers protection against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis.

The new law comes in to play as the number of whooping cough cases have increased around the country and in Franklin County.

As many as six babies are dead after contracting pertussis in California. While Ohio has not had any deaths from the disease since 2008, the number of cases is going up. According to the Ohio Department of Health, Franklin County has seen 154 whooping cough cases so far this year. That's an 88 percent increase over the same time last year.

Pertussis is not the only preventable disease that has made headlines in recent months. Last year, several states saw measles outbreaks. These outbreaks have led medical experts to push inoculation. And some to say children are under vaccinated.

Amy Bashforth is ODH's immunization program chief. She worries about under vaccination.

"About 30 percent of teens in Ohio have received their Tdap booster. Unfortunately Ohio's rate is below the national average," Bashforth said.

To be most effective medical experts say 90 percent of children need to be vaccinated against communicable diseases. Dwight Powell is in the infectious diseases unit at Columbus Children's Hospital.

"When you immunize say 90 percent of a population of kids at a certain age, that ten percent of non-immunized kids is probably not going to see much of that disease because of the herd immunity effect," he said.

But the herd immunity effect, Powell said, does not apply to whooping cough and measles - two of the most highly contagious preventable diseases. Powell said by the time children reach their pre-teen years, the whooping cough vaccine they received as babies is all but ineffective. In other words, it's not life-long protection.

"Pertussis is a relatively short term immunity that begins to wan in pre-adolescence and definitely through adolescence. It's adolescence and adults who tend to get infected and carry the illness back to their younger sibling," Powell said.

And that's why Powell said the booster is needed to stop the spread of the disease.

"Outbreaks like pertussis particularly are going to require more unique effort," he said. Public health clinics and doctors' offices likely will be busy in the coming days as schools prepare to open.