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Whooping-cough spike a result of old versus new vaccine?

July 31, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
If the current trend continues, the United States could experience a record number of whooping-cough cases this year. Could the vaccine have something to do with it? And what can parents do about preventing whooping cough?

A new report finds the D-TaP shot, the one that contains the pertussis (also known as "whooping cough") vaccine, may not be as long-lasting as previously thought. So how can parents protect their kids and themselves? It may mean more shots.

Pertussis is highly contagious and can be fatal for infants who can't handle the strong, consistent cough.

In 1997, the U.S. switched the old whole-cell diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine with one that contains only bits of cells, to prevent side effects such as fever and swelling.

Now a new Australian study finds the new vaccine, D-TaP, may wear off sooner than expected.

"There's still immunity, but the percentage of immunity, say the first set of vaccines will get you 80-, 90-percent immunity. Well that may decrease by 10, 20, 30 percent every so many years," said pediatrician Dr. John Rodarte.

That may be why the current outbreak is affecting an unusually high percentage of 13- to 14-year-olds who received the new vaccine in infancy. It may mean children might need a booster shot sooner.

But for now, Dr. Rodarte says, it's more important kids complete their series of immunizations before age 5 and then get pertussis boosters between 10 and 12, and later in college.

"A lot of parents are doing what's called alternative vaccination series, or not vaccinating at all," said Rodarte. "When you have that, then not only does your child not get vaccinated, but if they do contract the disease, they can pass it on to other children as well."

Adults can be carriers too. So far only 8 percent of American adults have gotten the shot.

Dr. Rodarte says anyone who takes care of kids needs to get vaccinated.

The old whole-cell pertussis vaccine is still in use in other countries. There's no talk about bringing it back in the U.S., but researchers are working on other ways to give boosters, including a nasal vaccine.


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