Pertussis, or whooping cough, is still present in the United States. We just received laboratory confirmation of the diagnosis yesterday in a five-year-old child and have had two other cases in the last month. Our small town of fifty thousand has had an epidemic of around a hundred cases every other year since 2000. Nationally, there were over twenty-five thousand cases in the United States in 2004.
So if we stopped vaccinating against pertussis, there would be a huge increase in the number of cases of whooping cough. This would be most dangerous for newborns and young infants, who have the highest rate of hospitalization, pneumonia, seizures, coma, and death. In the prevaccine era, around two hundred thousand pertussis cases were reported annually in the United States, with over nine thousand deaths.
This increase in cases of pertussis has been seen in various other countries where the use of the pertussis vaccine has declined. In both Japan and the United Kingdom, the vaccination rate against pertussis declined in the 1970s because parents were hesitant to vaccinate. Both countries suffered epidemics with thousands of cases and thirty to forty deaths. A well respected study published in The Lancet medical journal in 1998 showed that in countries with lower immunization rates, there was a ten to one hundred times increase in the rate of pertussis when compared to countries with higher immunization rates.