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Whooping Cough Vaccine

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A Los Angeles mother is making sure her one-year-old son is protected against whooping cough after California's outbreak three years ago.

"It wasn't really a question for me, it was more like he has to get it."

A new study in Pediatrics finds a link between the outbreak and California communities, where large numbers of parents refused to vaccinate their children due to personal or religious beliefs.

The epidemic killed 10 infants and sickened more than 9,000 people in the state. "If you lived in a community that had higher rates of vaccine refusal, you are about twice as likely to experience a community outbreak of pertussis," says Dan Salmon, Deputy Director, John Hopkins Institute for Vaccine Safety.

Whooping cough or pertussis is a highly contagious, a bacterial infection that causes severe coughing fits. Experts say refusing vaccination is not the only culprit behind outbreaks.

Previous studies show vaccine protection wanes over time. "After about 5 years the immunity is significantly less, and so uh, that's why we want to continue immunization at every 5 or 10 years," says Dr. Wilber Mason.

Babies can't be vaccinated until they're a few months old - and even then it takes months to build immunity.

"I just want him to be safe."

Since the epidemic, California passed a law that makes it harder for parents to opt out of vaccines for non-medical reasons.

Health officials encourage pregnant women to get vaccinated to prevent spreading whooping cough to their newborns. Caregivers and anyone around newborns are advised to keep their vaccinations up to date.

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