New research has shown that protection from whooping cough (pertussis) weakens a few years after preschool children get their final diptheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTaP) shot. The current recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is that children receive a booster between ages 11 and 12.
It’s likely that the trend is linked to a change in the vaccine in the 1990s. An acellular pertussis vaccine with fewer side effects was introduced and replaced the original whole-cell vaccine. The new research notes that children may be at risk of developing whooping cough before age 11 because their immunity is declining from a weaker vaccine.
Dr. H. Cody Meissner is a pediatrician at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston and notes, “There’s a fairly dramatic and startling increase in pertussis [whooping cough] in children in the seven to ten-year old age group.”
Sara Tartof from the Southern California Permanente Medical Group in Pasadena led the group of researchers on the new study. Immunization records of 400,000 Minnesota and Oregon children who received the recommended series of five DTaP shots were analyzed.
“An important thing to remember is the kids who do receive all five doses on time generally have milder [whooping cough] than those who are under-vaccinated or unvaccinated,” Tartof said. “Even though there is waning immunity…getting the five doses on time is still the best protection you can give your kid.” Parents should continue to follow the CDC’s vaccine schedule.
The CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has decided not to recommend an alternative revaccination schedule despite the waning pertussis protection. The group cited that the risks of pertussis decrease with age.
“It is so important that people do not interpret this as the vaccine doesn’t work, and then not get vaccinated at all,” Meissner concludes. “Because then we would really have a problem.”
In New York, this is already becoming a problem as the rise in religious exemptions for children is paralleling a rise in whooping cough cases. “It’s troubling from an ethical standpoint,” Dr. Jana Shaw, a professor of pediatrics at SUNY Upstate Medical University states. “If you have gotten an exemption for your child, not only are they at high risk of [whooping cough], but you’re putting other children at risk – even those who have been vaccinated.”
Clay County in Missouri is having a vaccination campaign for childcare workers, parents and grandparents in July. The Public Health Center believes that vaccinating those who come into contact with infants will decrease the cases of whooping cough in the county. Whooping cough is often unknowingly spread from unvaccinated adults to children who don’t have full immunity until they are 12-15 months of age.
‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ actress Sarah Michelle Gellar is also supporting the pertussis vaccine. Gellar, who has two small children, has partnered with March of Dimes to increase awareness about the importance of childhood vaccines. She also recommends adults be vaccinated for whooping cough.
Vaccines are one of the best forms of protection for children. Parents should consult their child’s pediatrician if they have questions or concerns about the vaccine schedule or a particular vaccine.