Several factors may be contributing to the substantial increase of children contracting pertussis, known as whooping cough. In spite of continued improvements to vaccines, which have reduced the incidents of adverse reactions, an increasing number of parents have elected not to have their children immunized, based on misperceptions of potential side effects. This leaves a significant segment of the population vulnerable to this dangerous and contagious disease.
In addition, the New England Journal of Medicine published a report on September 13, 2012 that suggests the newest pertussis vaccine, introduced in 1997, may become less effective in a small percentage of the population as an individual gets older.
The combination of larger numbers of unvaccinated children plus a few vaccinated individuals who contract the illness has resulted in a serious situation for the entire population, especially in babies who are too young to have received a full schedule of immunizations.
Dr. John Chunn, M.D. is a pediatrician specializing in infectious diseases with Central Oregon Pediatric Associates. According to Dr. Chunn, “It looks like the newer acellular pertussis vaccine, DTaP, doesn't protect some children as long as we had hoped. The old vaccine, whole cell pertussis (DTP) had many more side effects but probably offered more protection. It’s been only a matter of time as people immunized with the older DTP became the minority, those with DTaP became the majority and we started seeing more disease.
Though a few individuals who’ve had the newer vaccine may contract pertussis more easily than previously expected, they don't get very sick with it. Therefore, it appears there is some protective effect. Also, their symptoms are less severe and their rate of contagion is not as high as someone who's not immunized and who experiences more severe and longer lasting symptoms. The best protection we can offer our children is to increase our rate of vaccinations and provide some insular crowd immunity.”
Infants who are too young to be fully immunized are at the highest risk of contracting pertussis. Half the reported cases are in children under 12 months, with the highest rates of mortality in those under 3 months of age. The key to an infant’s safety is being surrounded by family and friends who are vaccinated, offering them less chance for exposure. A group of families with babies, where the older children are not vaccinated can start an epidemic that can lead to tragic consequences.
Families may contact Central Oregon Pediatric Associates (COPA) to schedule an appointment and receive more information on the pertussis vaccine as well as other immunizations. More information regarding recommended vaccination schedules is available at www.copakids.com/parent-resources.
Watch This Video on Pertussis