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Whooping Cough Vaccine Protection Fades Quickly

September 14, 2012 — Experts are questioning the effectiveness of the vaccine for Whooping Cough (also known as pertussis), which may decline rapidly. In a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that the odds of getting Whooping Cough increase by an average of 42% per year after the fifth dose of the vaccine. In other words, children who are vaccinated with DTaP are 95% protected from Whooping Cough after their fifth dose, but five years later, they are only 71% protected from the disease.

Most children are vaccinated against Whooping Cough with DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, and acellular pertussis) in a series of five shots before they are 7 years old. The acellular vaccine became standard in the 1990s. Before then, Whooping Cough vaccines contained whole-cell pertussis instead of acellular pertussis. The whole-cell vaccine was discontinued after being linked to a higher risk of side effects.

Unfortunately, the acellular vaccine may be less effective than the whole-cell vaccine. Although the short-term protection against Whooping Cough is very good, the effectiveness appears to wear off sooner than expected.

The study was conducted by researchers at the Kaiser Permanente Vaccine Study Center. They compared 277 children with Whooping Cough to more than 3,000 children who did not get the disease. Another 6,000 children with similar age, gender, and ethnicity were also used as comparison.

The researchers concluded that drug companies need to develop a better vaccine.

There have been several major outbreaks of Whooping Cough in the last few years. Children who are not vaccinated with DTaP have an eight-fold increased risk of getting Whooping Cough, and they are especially vulnerable during an outbreak. In 2010, there was an outbreak of Whooping Couch in California that sickened more than 8,000 people and killed 11 newborns.

Whooping Cough is a highly contagious disease caused by the Bordetella pertussis bacteria, which can infect a person’s upper-respiratory tract and cause uncontrollable, violent coughing. The disease can cause permanent disability and death. Infants are most vulnerable to severe injury or death from the disease — during coughing fits, they may temporarily stop breathing. Complications include permanent seizure disorders, brain damage from lack of oxygen, cerebral hemorrhage, intellectual disabilities, slowed breathing, and death.

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