Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Children's Vaccines Health Center

Font Size

Unvaccinated Kids Getting Whooping Cough

Children of Parents Who Refuse Vaccines More Likely to Get Whooping Cough
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

May 26, 2009 -- Children of parents who refuse to give them vaccines are more likely than fully immunized kids to get whooping cough, according to a new study.

Researchers say the number of parents refusing to vaccinate their children is on the rise, and this study demonstrates the risk of the bacterial disease, also known as pertussis. The results also showed that 11% of whooping cough cases in a general pediatric population of Kaiser Permanente of Colorado were attributable to vaccine refusal.

“This result dispels one of the commonly held beliefs among vaccine-refusing parents: that their children are not at risk for vaccine-preventable diseases,” researcher Jason M. Glanz, PhD, of Kaiser Permanente Colorado wrote in Pediatrics.

Although the number of parents who refuse immunizations is small, researchers say that number has increased over the past decade and may be contributing to a rise in the preventable disease cases in children.

According to the CDC, although the number of whooping cough cases have been rising since the 1980s, the numbers are still 97% lower than when the vaccine wasn't available.

Why Some Parents Refuse Vaccines

Researchers say that now that many of the vaccine-preventable diseases, such as whooping cough, smallpox, and polio, have become rare, parental concern “seems to have shifted from preventing disease transmission to vaccine safety.”

The researchers write that "Some parents believe vaccines 'overload' children’s immune systems and cause chronic illnesses."

Although no vaccine-autism link has been proven, fears of a vaccine-autism link have prompted parents to refuse some or all of the recommended immunizations for their children.

Researchers say other parents believe their children are at low risk for infection and that many vaccine-preventable diseases are not serious.

Vaccine Refusal Raises Disease Risk

The study looked at records of children 2 months to 18 years old enrolled in the Kaiser Permanente Colorado health plan from 1996 to 2007. During the study, 156 lab-confirmed cases of whooping cough were reported. They compared these children to 595 children who didn't get whooping cough.

Researchers found that children of parents who refused vaccines were 23 times more likely than vaccinated children to get the infection.

In addition, another analysis among 27,748 young children from 2 to 20 months old with 31 lab-confirmed cases of pertussis, there was a similar increase in disease risk among children of parents who refused the whooping cough vaccine.

Overall, 11% of whooping cough cases in the total population were attributable to parents’ refusal of vaccines.

“These findings stress the need to further understand why parents refuse immunizations and to develop strategies for conveying the risks and benefits of immunizations to parents more effectively,” the researchers write.

Today on WebMD

Baby getting vaccinated
Is there a link? Get the facts.
syringes and graph illustration
Get a customized vaccine schedule.
baby getting a vaccine
Know the benefits and the risk
nurse holding syringe in front of girl
Should your child have it?

What To Know About The HPV Vaccine
24 Kid Illnesses Parents Should Know
Nausea and Vomiting Remedies Slideshow
Managing Immunization Schedules For Kids

Doctor administering vaccine to toddler
gloved hand holding syringe
infant receiving injection

WebMD Special Sections