What Is Causing the Pertussis “Epidemic”: Unvaccinated Kids or an Ineffective Vaccine?
By guest blogger Dr. Bob Sears
Pediatrician & TACA Physician Advisory Board member
The recent increase in pertussis (whooping cough) cases has the media and public health officials in an uproar. They’re calling it the worst pertussis epidemic in half a century. Pertussis a serious disease for infants that tragically kills about 20 babies every year in the United States. I think everyone can agree, whooping cough HAS increased this year. But it’s NOT an epidemic. An epidemic is a disease that is usually not around and then suddenly hits. With pertussis we’ve had about 20 thousand reported cases every year for the past 20 years; some years more, some less. I don’t know if I would call an 11% increase an epidemic. It’s an increase this year that’s a little higher than past increases. And we’ve always seen it decrease again (1 & 2.)
The media and some vaccine advocates are incorrectly blaming parents who choose not to vaccinate their children. But interestingly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other health officials, are NOT. Allow me to quote Dr. Anne Schuchat, the director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases:
“Better diagnosis and reporting of whooping cough may be contributing to the increased numbers, along with the fact that the disease tends to peak and wane in cycles. It does not appear that anti-vaccination sentiment among parents has contributed to either the national rise in cases or the Washington state epidemic.” (3)
Dr. Schuchat also explains that the newer DTaP isn’t as effective as the older DTP version.
Just how effective is the vaccine? Past research has shown varied results, putting the vaccine’s efficacy between 70 and 90%. But one of the latest studies form the Oxford Journal Clinical Infectious Diseases demonstrates that vaccine efficacy is even lower, and varies greatly with age: 41% for toddlers and preschoolers, 24% for elementary age kids, and 79% for teens (possibly due to the 12-year booster dose 4). These numbers make the pertussis vaccine one of the least effective ones on the schedule. Clearly, the number one reason why pertussis continues to remain at high rates in our country is that the vaccine doesn’t work very well, even in the short term, and wears off fairly quickly, leaving even fully-vaccinated kids susceptible to the disease.
Any media person who tries to blame the rise in whooping cough soley on the anti-vaccine movement is ignoring science and spreading false information. The solution isn’t to try to change the minds of all the parents who refuse the vaccine; the solution is that we need a better vaccine, one that doubting parents can rely on to protect their kids.
Dr. Bob Sears