Latest Whooping Cough Outbreaks Blamed on Vaccinated Kids (And Adults)

vaccineWhooping cough is kind of a big deal. Last year, the United States saw nearly 30,000 cases of the disease, and 20 deaths resulted -- most of them in infants under the age of 3 months. It's an awful disease that sees patients fighting for every breath, and it's been making an unpleasant comeback since hitting its lowest case rates in the 1970s. Part of the reason for this rise is the anti-vaccination movement, and part of it is the drop-off in vaccination rates over time. But scientists at the Santa Fe Institute are now suggesting that another factor could be at play in the resurgence of whooping cough.


The current whooping cough vaccine comes with a trade-off. It causes far fewer serious side effects in young children than the old vaccine did. But then, its efficacy fades much faster than the old vaccine did, requiring more frequent booster shots in kids (and adults, too -- when was your last Tdap booster?).

And that might not be the only trade-off. According to the press release published by the institute, it's possible that people who are vaccinated with the current vaccine could be able to carry the disease without actually developing its symptoms. The research involved a meta-study of existing data from the CDC and its United Kingdom equivalent, which the researchers used to study the relationships between the types of vaccines used, vaccination rates, whooping cough rates, and the ages at which people were becoming infected.

According to the press release -- and let me emphasize again that this is a press release, not an outside source's objective opinions of the study -- the most important factor in the return of whooping cough might be these symptom-free disease carriers. I, however, am not 100% sold.

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The linchpin on which the researchers' case rests is that people who have been vaccinated can -- and indeed, are likely to -- carry the disease without knowing they have it. But the ability of a vaccinated person to carry the disease has never actually been definitively shown to happen. And if you look at the beautiful graph included at the very top of the press release, you might notice that the black line measuring U.S. cases of whooping cough start ramping up a good 15 years or so before the acellular vaccine was introduced. It's hard to chalk symptom-free vaccinated carriers up as the number-one cause of the increase in whooping cough when there was no one at the time getting vaccinated with the kind of vaccine that's supposed to be the problem.

Could vaccinated people be passing on whooping cough without knowing it? It's a definite possibility. Is it the primary factor that's caused the return of whooping cough? I'm not so sure.

Either way, the researchers and I agree on one very important thing: Get yourself and your children vaccinated. Having whooping cough bacteria in your body isn't what injures and kills people -- it's the symptoms of whooping cough that do that. The vaccine isn't perfect, and yes, it's annoying to go back for boosters every few years, but the alternative to "annoying" is "fatal or near-fatal," and that's not a tough choice at all.

Are your children vaccinated against whooping cough?

Image via © baona/iStock


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