New Study Shows Need for Whooping Cough Booster Shots
A recent study shows that the modern vaccine for whooping cough becomes less effective as children age highlighting the need for new vaccines to protect children from the highly contagious disease.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) schedule, infants and children are supposed to receive five doses of the DTaP vaccine before age 7. The CDC vaccine schedule mandates that four DTaP vaccines are administered before 18 months, and another is given when a child is 4 to 6 years old. A similar booster shot is then given when a child is 11 or 12 years old.
Risk of Whooping Cough Increases As Vaccine Wanes
The new research published in the journal Pediatrics found that the risk of contracting whooping cough increased as children were further away from their last shot of the vaccine, suggesting that immunity wanes as time passes between doses. The DTaP vaccine, which also protects against diphtheria and tetanus, was still found to be effective: The risk of coming down with whooping cough was 13 times higher in those who were unvaccinated, and almost twice as high in those who received some, but not all, of their shots.
Pertussis Outbreaks in Children In Spite of Vaccines
Dr. Nicola Klein, a co-author of the study and director of the Kaiser Permanente Vaccine Study Center, said that "The bigger picture is that we've had several outbreaks of pertussis here in California over the past 9 years.” She further emphasized that the vaccine generally works, but noted that most of the children who had pertussis in the recent outbreaks were fully vaccinated. The research looked at nearly half a million children born between 1999 and 2016, and found that most whooping cough cases -- 82% -- occurred in children who were fully vaccinated or over-vaccinated.
Those results, the researchers wrote, suggest that suboptimal vaccine effectiveness played a major role in recent pertussis epidemics. Over 13,000 people contracted the disease in 2018, according to the CDC’s most recent provisional report, and ten people died, four of whom were less than a year old.
Whooping Cough Particularly Dangerous in Babies
Whooping cough, a respiratory disease caused by a type of bacteria called B. pertussis, can lead to violent and uncontrollable coughing that makes it hard to breathe. It is particularly dangerous in young babies, leading to death in many instances.
Before 1997, the whooping cough vaccine used actual cells of B. pertussis to trigger the immune system. Those cells had been inactivated, meaning they couldn't cause disease. In order to combat side effects associated with these "whole-cell" vaccines, the CDC recommended in 1997 that a different type of shot be used: DTaP. These post-1997 DTaP were created with little bits of the bacteria -- called antigens -- instead of entire cells, which reduced vaccine-related side effects such as fever-associated seizures.
Whooping Cough Vaccine Protection Diminishes Over Time
Research has shown these new vaccines to be effective at preventing whooping cough, but a growing body of evidence suggests that protection decreases over time as the odds of pertussis increased by 33% every additional year after the third or fifth dose of the vaccine. "There is global recognition that the whole-cell vaccine has longer-lasting protection than the acellular vaccine," said Klein, referring to the older version of the vaccine used in some developing countries. However, there are no plans to go back to the old vaccine that corresponded with increased side effects. The more likely scenario is that the CDC and manufacturers will continue to improve on the current vaccine to improve the long term efficacy of it.
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