Low immunization rates tied to Calif. whooping cough epidemic

California's low immunization rates might be at the heart of the recent whooping cough epidemic, public health officials have said.

California, the L.A. Times reports, is one of only 11 states that doesn't require its middle school students to receive booster shots against whooping cough. Only 43.7 percent of children in California have had the whooping cough vaccine. This is better than the national average of 40.8 percent, though some states requiring the shot have much higher percentages.

"People are not getting the booster at age 11 or 12, which is recommended by the CDC," Dr. Anju Goel, deputy public health officer for Marin County, told the L.A. Times. "It's something families don't necessarily think of [unless] there's a requirement for school entry for this booster."

The majority of Marin County's whooping cough cases have been diagnosed in those between the ages of five and 17. Marin County has record 187 whooping cough cases so far this year, more than in the past 10 years combined.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the booster shot in 2005, nothing that it is important as immunity to whooping cough may start to wane five years after inoculation or illness.

The California Legislature has made efforts to require adolescents receive the booster shot, but those efforts have stalled in the face of the state's budget crisis. The Assembly has shown widespread support for the booster shot, but the bill has not won support in the Senate appropriations committee, which is concerned that the state would have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for vaccinations of children who are part of the government's insurance program for the poor.