SANTA ANA (CBSLA.com) — A growing number of parents who opt not to vaccinate their children due to personal beliefs is raising concerns among public health officials as the school year gets underway, according to reports.

KNX 1070’s Margaret Carrero reports officials say misconceptions or a lack of information may be fueling the number of parents who decide not to have their kids immunized – a number that has doubled since 2007.

According to data cited by The Los Angeles Times, the rate of personal belief exemptions at kindergartens with at least 10 students in the Southland and across California jumped from 1.5 percent in 2007 to over 3 percent last fall.

Health officials such as Long Beach City Health Officer Dr. Mitchell Kushner say this year, it’s especially important for students to be up to date with their pertussis, or “whooping cough”, vaccinations as cases continue to increase throughout California.

So far this year, officials identified 157 cases of pertussis in Long Beach, marking the “highest number of cases that the Long Beach Health Department has ever experienced,” according to Kushner.

Pertussis is a respiratory illness that starts with cold-like symptoms, but then leads to a severe and long lasting cough, which often comes in spasms. Persons with pertussis can spread the disease by coughing or sneezing while in close contact with others, and, if left untreated, can cause serious illness in infants, children, and adults.

Dr. Matt Zahn, director of epidemiology for Orange County Public Health, believes there’s a direct link between the rise of pertussis and the number of parents foregoing vaccinations for their children.

An outbreak of measles earlier this year, according to Zahn, illustrates the underlying misconception among parents that certain diseases are a thing of the past.

“Yes, even if their child doesn’t get vaccinated, there’s not a great chance their child will get these illnesses, but it’s because of the vaccinations of the kids around their children in school,” he said.

In recent months, a number of celebrities including comic actor Rob Schneider and talk show host Jenny McCarthy have sought to raise public awareness about what they say are potential links between vaccines and autism or other conditions.

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