The benefits of the pertussis vaccine do not outweigh the risks.
You might hear this when people use outdated information referring to the old whole cell vaccine, but the current vaccine is safe.
Unfortunately, we have a countrywide example of what happens when people stop getting vaccinated. In 1975 the Japanese discontinued use of the whole cell pertussis vaccine (DTP) due to its high rate of side effects. (This is the vaccine that is no longer in use.) The previous year, in 1974, nearly 80% of Japanese children were vaccinated for pertussis. That year only 393 cases of pertussis (no related deaths) were reported in the entire country. After the vaccine was discontinued, cases rose dramatically. By 1976 only 10% of infants were getting vaccinated. In 1979 Japan suffered a major pertussis epidemic, with more than 13,000 cases of whooping cough and 41 deaths. –CDC
Risk of disease versus the risk of the vaccine? Ultimately, pertussis can and does kill, especially babies. No death has ever been connected to the vaccine. In addition about half of the cases of pertussis in infants under 1 year of age result in hospitalization. This is another example showing the cost of not getting a vaccine is not $0, as was recently stated by an Ashland author.
Herd immunity and cocooning will protect my children.
Well, yes and no. Herd or community immunity, is when enough people in a population are immune to a disease through vaccination or prior illness that the disease has difficulty spreading. This is how we protect individuals who are not vaccinated (such as newborns and those who have medical contraindications to vaccines). However, since pertussis spreads very easily and vaccine protection decreases over time, we can’t rely solely on herd immunity to protect everyone. This doesn’t mean community immunity doesn’t work, it just means we can’t rely on it 100%. The following explains why.
- “Adult vaccination is an important part of community protection. However, fewer than 10% of adults have gotten their Tdap booster dose, so we can’t yet measure how well herd immunity could work for pertussis.” –CDC
- Sometimes vaccinated people are exposed and get pertussis anyway. As stated above, the vaccine is only 80–90% effective. However, it’s important to remember that vaccinated people who get pertussis usually have milder symptoms, a shorter illness and are less likely to spread the disease to other people.
- The safety and effectiveness of vaccines is constantly being studied. We now know from the last few pertussis epidemics in 2010 and 2012 that it was children aged 10–11 years that had the highest incidence of disease. This tells epidemiologists and vaccine researchers that the immunity provided by the vaccine wears off quicker than was previously thought. That was the tradeoff for having a vaccine with fewer severe side effects. However, changing the recommended immunization schedule is a difficult process and more research is required. We wouldn’t want to see changes to the schedule be made on a whim.
That being said, vaccines still provide the best protection against pertussis.
Pertussis can be treated effectively with antibiotics.
Antibiotics only help to prevent pertussis transmission; they don’t necessarily reduce the symptoms, such as the cough. Antibiotics may be used to treat bacterial pneumonia which is a common complication of pertussis.
DTaP vaccine causes sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
This confusion arose because a moderate proportion of children who die of SIDS have recently been vaccinated with DTaP. At first glance it seems like there could be a causal connection. But…
“If you consider that most SIDS deaths occur during the age range when 3 shots of DTaP are given, you would expect DTaP shots to precede a fair number of SIDS deaths simply by chance. In fact, when a number of well-controlled studies were conducted during the 1980s, the investigators found, nearly unanimously, that the number of SIDS deaths temporally associated with DTP vaccination was within the range expected to occur by chance. In other words, the SIDS deaths would have occurred even if no vaccinations had been given. In several of the studies, children who had recently gotten a DTaP shot were less likely to get SIDS. The Institute of Medicine reported that “all controlled studies that have compared immunized versus nonimmunized children have found either no association . . . or a decreased risk . . . of SIDS among immunized children” and concluded that “the evidence does not indicate a causal relation between [DTaP] vaccine and SIDS.” –CDC
This same sort of coincidence has fueled the MMR vaccine and autism debate. The developmental symptoms of autism become apparent at the same time the MMR is routinely given.
When someone has pertussis you will know it by their cough.
Many people with pertussis such as older children and adults may only have a mild but persistent cough. They may not make that classic whooping sound. This is especially true if there is a past history of whooping cough or the person is fully immunized for their age.
Why is the focus on protecting infants from pertussis?