He also noted that, in severe outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, local school officials can declare a health emergency and require that all schoolchildren be vaccinated. Parents who insist on withholding vaccination must then keep their children out of school.
August said he was unaware of any such declarations in the face of the current pertussis outbreak.
The California public health department first warned of a pertussis spike in April, when the case count was running double the rate seen at the same time in 2009.
The current outbreak in California still pales against a major epidemic that swept England and Wales in the late 1970s and early 1980s, after pertussis vaccination coverage dropped to 30 percent in the wake of controversy over alleged vaccine reactions.
From January to September 1982, for example, nearly 50,000 children and adults contracted the disease. As many cases were reported in a single week as are expected in California for the entire year in 2010.