During a recent whooping cough outbreak in California, some interesting statistics were discovered on the effectiveness of the whooping cough vaccine in children 18 and under.
What is whooping cough?
Whooping cough or pertussis, is caused by Bordetella pertussis bacteria and produces an infection that causes an intense cough. Often times the cough can last weeks or months, and in extreme cases can lead to pneumonia, an inability to breathe, or even death.
What is the recommended vaccination?
The pertussis vaccine, a five-shot series referred to as DTaP, is recommended for children at ages two, four, six, and 18-months, and at four to six years of age. Following that, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that children get the booster shot Tdap at age 12. In total, that’s six shots suggested towards the prevention of whooping cough.
Does the vaccination help or harm?
In 2010 there was a huge outbreak of whooping cough in California in children 8-12 years old. This was especially apparent at Kaiser Permanente in San Rafael, where their spike in cases was the largest seen in California in more than 50 years. The doctors expected to see the outbreak centered around unvaccinated kids since they were thought to be the most vulnerable to the disease.
“We started dissecting the data. What was very surprising was the majority of cases were in fully vaccinated (all six shots) children. That’s what started catching our attention,” said Dr. David Witt, an infectious disease specialist at the San Rafael Hospital.
To further dissect how well the vaccine was working, Witt and his fellow doctors decided to collect information on every case of pertussis between March and October 2010. Their results were astounding. What they found was that of the 132 sick patients under the age of 18, 81% were fully up to date on recommended whooping cough shots, and only 8% had never been vaccinated. The other 11% had received at least one shot, but not the entire series. The rate of cases for each age peaked among kids in their pre-teens. At the age of 13 the number of cases dropped, presumably because that’s the age when children are eligible for their whooping cough booster shot.
Comparing the kids with pertussis to the more than 22,000 kids in the hospital’s database who were not sick, Witt and his colleagues concluded in the Journal of Clinical Infectious Diseases that the vaccine is effective 50% of the time for all kids, and only 24% of the time in children ages 8-12.
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