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California Whooping Cough Epidemic Hits Infants Hardest

Photo caption: Nurses Fatima Guillen, left, and Fran Wendt, right, give Kimberly Magdeleno, ...

Photo credit: Ted S. Warren / Associated Press

Nurses Fatima Guillen, left, and Fran Wendt, right, give Kimberly Magdeleno, 4, a whooping cough booster shot, as she is held by her mother, Claudia Solorio, at a health clinic in Tacoma, Washington, May 3, 2012.

California health experts say people around infants should be vaccinated to protect themselves and the little ones from whooping cough. Babies have been hard hit by the current epidemic.

The California Department of Public Health says two-thirds of hospitalizations from pertussis have been among infants less than four months old. Two infants have died.

Special Feature Whooping Cough Vaccine Failures Increasing

Two years after a KPBS/inewsource investigation posed serious questions about how well the whooping cough vaccine works, new research confirms the vaccine is failing at a higher rate than expected.

Dr. Dean Blumberg of the UC Davis Health System says there’s normally a surge in whooping cough cases every three to five years. But this year’s outbreak exceeds expectations.

“We are seeing increasing epidemics of whooping cough over the past several years, and part of that is that the vaccine is imperfect, and then part of that is our vaccination rate isn’t as high as we’d like it to be.”

The state reports there have already been more reported cases of whooping cough this year than were reported in all of 2013.

“One of the other problems with pertussis vaccines is that they just don’t work well immediately. So you can’t give them until kids are at least 6 weeks of age, and it takes at least two or three doses for children to get protection from pertussis. And so you really can’t get them protected until around 4-6 months of age,” Blumberg says.

The highest rates of pertussis this year are in Northern California’s Sonoma, Marin and Napa counties, with high numbers in San Diego.

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