Whooping cough vaccine: how well is it working?

From ABC Health and Wellbeing, 14 August 2012:

New research shows the current whooping cough vaccine is not as effective as its predecessor, so what’s the best way to protect children against this potentially deadly infection?

A highly contagious disease, caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis, whooping cough is known for its severe coughing attacks with a characteristic ‘whoop’ at the end. You can get it at any age, but for the very young it can be deadly.

In Australia the take-up rate of the pertussis vaccine is very high, with around 95 per cent of children receiving the full three doses of vaccine by age two (at two, four and six months).

However, pertussis infections in all age groups are once again on the increase globally. Australia recorded 38,000 cases in 2011, the highest number since records began in 1991 and most states are only now recovering from a major epidemic that began in 2008.

So if immunisation programs have been successful, why is whooping cough still a problem?

Prevents severe illness and death

The short answer, according to immunisation expert Professor Peter McIntyre, is because the pertussis vaccine is good at reducing the risk of severe disease and death, but is not necessarily going to prevent infection altogether.

“It’s not like measles vaccine where if you have the vaccine you just won’t get measles infection,” says McIntyre, director of the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases at the University of Sydney.

“The pertussis vaccine is decreasing the amount of infection to some extent, but mostly what it’s doing is decreasing how sick you get.”

This means children who might otherwise have got extremely sick and ended up in intensive care on oxygen or even died, now get a milder infection or sometimes show no symptoms at all. Read more here.

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