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Whooping Cough Vaccines, Why New Ones May Harm Your Child

Whooping cough vaccines

We live in a society where we believe the marketing rhetoric that something new is improved and better. When it comes to whooping cough vaccines, however, the newer acellular version is not better than the older whole-cell whooping cough vaccine (in use since the 1940s) and may harm your child.

What should you know about whooping cough vaccines?

Whooping cough (pertussis) is a highly contagious bacterial disease and also one of the most commonly occurring ones in the United States, despite a high rate of vaccinations. Reasons for frequent outbreaks of the disease include the fact that the pertussis vaccines are not 100 percent effective, and that their protective effect fades over time. A small percentage of parents do not get all the recommended vaccinations for their children.

A recent outbreak in Vermont, for example, began in 2012 and included a reported 645 cases that year, with scores more in 2013 thus far. In Wisconsin, 5,923 cases were reported in 2012, about a fivefold increase over the previous year.

In a new study from Kaiser Permanente Vaccine Study Center in Oakland, California, investigators reported on the 2010-2011 whooping cough outbreak in California and the effectiveness of the vaccines. Here’s what they found:

  • Young people ages 10 to 17 years whose first four diphtheria/tetanus/pertussis vaccinations included acellular whooping cough vaccine (DTaP) were nearly six times as likely to contract the disease as children who had received four whole-cell vaccinations (DTwP)
  • This same population of children was nearly four times as likely to contract the disease as were their peers who received a mixture of these two vaccine types

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These findings support other evidence that the newer acellular vaccines are not as effective as the older vaccines, thus children administered the newer versions are at greater risk of developing whooping cough. The disease is characterized by sneezing, runny nose or congestion, and fever at the beginning, and the development of severe, violent coughing after 1 to 2 weeks.

The newer vaccine is associated with fewer side effects, such as fever and crying among infants, than the older vaccine. However, the trade-off appears to be a less effective vaccine and thus a greater risk of disease occurrence.

Who should get vaccinated for whooping cough?
In the United States, the recommended vaccination schedule for pertussis is as follows:

  • Five shots of DTaP, given at ages 2, 4, and 6 months of age, one at 15 through 18 months, and the fifth at ages 4 through 6 years
  • A booster shot, Tdap, at age 11 or 12 years
  • One dose of Tdap for pregnant women at weeks 27 through 36 of the pregnancy
  • One dose of Tdap for adults 19 years and older who did not receive Tdap as a preteen or teenager. Adults who will have close contact with an infant are encouraged to be vaccinated with Tdap at least two weeks prior to such contact

Parents of young children and teenagers as well as pregnant women and other adults who have questions about whooping cough vaccines should consult their healthcare provider. It is especially important to ask questions about the safety and effectiveness of the newer and older whooping cough vaccines.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Klein NP et al. Comparative effectiveness of acellular versus whole-cell pertussis vaccines in teenagers. Pediatrics 2013; 131:e1716-e1722
Vermont Department of Health

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