Anti-Science

New Video! Thanks for the Whooping Cough, Jenny McCarthy

Did you know that there’s currently a pertussis epidemic in California? And that vaccine refusals may have something to do with it? And that Jenny McCarthy is marrying Donnie from NKOTB??

Here’s the video:

And here’s the sort-of-transcript:

California is currently experiencing a whooping cough epidemic, also known as pertussis. 3,500 cases have been reported thus far and so far, two infants have died.

Meanwhile, Jenny McCarthy, TV personality and symbolic head of the US anti-vaccine movement, is busy debating between peonies and daisies for her upcoming wedding to New Kid on the Block Donnie Wahlberg. McCarthy’s son, who was vaccinated and did not die a violent death as an infant, has just moved in with the couple in NYC.

The last time California experienced a major whooping cough outbreak, researchers determined that parents who filed for a non medical exemption from vaccinating their kids were more likely to live in a whooping cough outbreak area. Clusters of non-vaccinating parents were the exception to the rule, since California usually enjoys higher rates of vaccination than the average.

In other words, it’s likely that parents choosing not to vaccinate their children had a real impact on the spread of a deadly disease. And just to be clear, yes, it is a deadly disease. It’s not just an annoying cough – it’s the kind of cough that makes it so you can’t take a breath, the kind of cough that makes you vomit, the kind of cough that is so violent it can break your ribs. Healthy adults tend to survive it, but infants aren’t so lucky, as we’ve seen with this most recent epidemic.

It’s worth noting that the pertussis vaccine is not perfect. No, it doesn’t cause autism or lycanthropy or spontaneous combustion, but it’s not an instant cure-all. In fact, a large number of the cases in California appear to be in vaccinated individuals. The primary reason why this happens is because the vaccine doesn’t guarantee you’ll never contract the disease – it means that your chances of contracting it are severely reduced, and if you do contract it then your symptoms will be severely reduced.

The other reason why it happens is because the pertussis vaccine loses its efficacy as time goes on. Many adults don’t even realize that they need booster shots to stay up to date, about every 5 years or so.

So what’s the solution? Simple, at least in theory: we make sure that every infant who can get a vaccination gets a vaccination, and make sure that adults receive regular boosters on time. That way, we increase our herd immunity, which is just a fun way to say that we enjoy a protective bonus from everyone being vaccinated.

And maybe lets keep Jenny McCarthy out of California for awhile.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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7 Comments

  1. I think it was 3 winters ago, our 6-year old son contracted whooping cough. We live in Kentucky, and he had been vaccinated. Because he had been vaccinated, the doctor dismissed pertussis as a potential cause, and for more than one month we tried to treat his terrible, terrible cough in various ineffective ways. We didn’t realize that the vaccine was not 100% effective, so we didn’t really question it (nor had either of us seen someone with pertussis in real life). Eventually, he tested for pertussis, and determined that was the problem. Once he started treatment, things improved dramatically, and he stopped being contagious (although the cough persists for a while even after the drugs have taken effect).

    Lucky for us, there does not appear to be any lasting effect, and it is just a month or two of bad experience in our past, but I really worried about all of the exposure he had to babies and children who had babies at home for that month.

    1. I’m glad everything worked out, and I don’t think you did anything wrong. Probably not your doctor either, if whooping cough is as rare as it should be, and you live in a well-vaccinated area. However it looks like there was an outbreak in Kentucky in 2012. Your son may have been an early victim or part of the infection path, since the doctors didn’t diagnose it for so long.

      This just points out once again the importance of herd immunity. Not everyone can be vaccinated, and not everyone who is vaccinated, like your son, is immune. I think if anyone who was in contact with your son had come down with pertussis, you would have known, which also shows that herd immunity works. But even if there had been a serious local outbreak that could be traced to your son, you did everything right, and you and your family would not be to blame. The e-cig smoking, botox injecting McCarthyites, on the other hand…

      1. Indeed, some people are immunosuppressed (from chemotherapy or AIDS or something else), and vaccines are completely ineffective for them. Or they can’t take the vaccine for other reasons (for instance, an allergy to the medium). When someone like Jenny goes around saying how horrible vaccines are, all these people die.

      2. Thanks. If I’m remembering correctly, it was the winter of 2010-2011, but it could have been the following winter, so we would have been on the leading edge of that outbreak. We never figured how he contracted it because he attends a private school that requires vaccination (without any exceptions that we are aware of). We notified the school and were the cause of a mass “Someone has contracted pertussis” notice, but obviously no one before us had alerted the school. My guess is someone from his school contracted it but only had a mild cough that seemed seasonal and didn’t pay attention.

        Lucky for me, I had a physical in the fall of the same year and received the TDaP booster for probably the first time in many, many years.

  2. I’ll note that the TDaP booster protects you from pertussis AND tetanus (and diphtheria, which has not resurged as far as I’m aware, and let’s hope it doesn’t). There’s really no excuse for adults to not get regular TDaP boosters. It’s covered 100% with insurance, and people without insurance can go to the county health department to get low-cost immunizations.

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