The Vaccination Debate Continues: Pertussis (Whooping Cough) Facts You Need to Know

Vaccination is one of the most hotly debated health topics there is. But rarely do either side of the debate understand the details.

The pro vaccine group has near-religious faith in the altruistic behavior of public health officials and the pharmaceutical companies.  And, boy, if any of you think that profit is not a driver of the drug companies we really have no more room for discussion.

For me, just because “they” tell me I should turn my child into a voodoo doll replica in his first handful of years is not a strong enough reason to jump off the cliff with the rest of the lemmings.  If I’m going to do something for my child’s health, there better be a damn good reason and very solid research behind it.

If the pro-vaccine group wanted to sound less like religious fanatics they could start by not blaming parents who choose not to vaccination their children for every outbreak of every disease on the planet and verbally trash their parenting skills.

They could also check their facts when they discuss Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s research and subsequent smear campaign when it came to his research on ileonodular hyperplasia and the combined MMR vaccine.  Almost always the facts are ignored and the hype and publicity is regurgitated.

Rather, they should bring up the fact that some vaccinations have some good track records.  Smallpox and polio might be on the list, although there are some strong opinions that suggest that public health measures played no small part in the near-eradication of these diseases.

The answer likely lies somewhere in the middle.

The anti-vaccination crowd will fall back on the autism debate and the components of the vaccination like mercury (despite what anyone says, it is NEVER a good idea to inject ANY form of mercury into the human body), formaldehyde, aborted embryos and a long list of nasty sounding chemical compounds.

While these may be valid points, it’s not the best stance for the anti-vaccination crowd.  Rarely have I read through the inevitable discussions that follow an article on vaccination (whether pro or con) and was proud of either side.

As someone who considers themselves quite well read on the subject of vaccination I lean towards the anti-vaccination crowd.  Part of the reason for this is that we really, really don’t know what we’re doing.  Worse, the story of what is best continues to change.

As an example, the Prevnar vaccination for pneumococcal infections (pneumonia and meningitis) started out addressing just 7 strains of the bacteria.  Over time, we realized that, like a giant wac-a-mole game, Mother Nature was increasing infections caused by other strains.  These infections were more severe and more resistant to antibiotics.  So they redeveloped the vaccine to include 13 strains and the recommendations when out for everyone who had gotten the 7-valent shot to come in and get the new 13-valent shot.  What a financial windfall, huh?

Examples like this are everywhere, including this particular study.

In it, researchers looked at 279 school aged (5-15) children who saw a pediatrician for complaints of a persistent cough that had lasted at least 2-8 weeks.  Vaccination status was gathered, including how long it had been since the child had his or her preschool booster.  These kids were checked for pertussis infection.  The results were a little eye-opening:

  • A hefty 20% (56 children) had evidence of whooping cough.
  • Of the 215 who had been fully vaccinated, 18% (39 children) had whooping cough.
  • In the kids who had the booster at least 7 years ago, the risk of pertussis was more than three times higher (21/53 kids, or 40%) than the kids who had the booster within the 7 years (20/171 kids; or 12%).

A few things to point out here.  First, there was little difference between vaccinated and unvaccinated kids in the rate of whooping cough (20% versus 27%).  Seven percent difference is hardly something to hang your hat on.

Next, it is clear that despite frequent boosters, the whooping cough vaccine does not really provided any significant long-term protection.  While this study is not large enough to address it, in most cases, an actual infection (versus the vaccination) provides a much more long-lasting and potent protection against an infection.

Lastly, I really think that, in contrast to what you hear in the press about a whooping cough resurgence, pertussis has been alive and well among us but just not recognized for what it was.  Not, with an increased vigilance by pediatricians it seems like there is a large increase in the number of kids with whooping cough.

If this is the case, then whooping cough vaccination has really not been a strong player in keeping pertussis at bay in our society, although it would receive undo credit.

James Bogash

For more than a decade, Dr. Bogash has stayed current with the medical literature as it relates to physiology, disease prevention and disease management. He uses his knowledge to educate patients, the community and cyberspace on the best way to avoid and / or manage chronic diseases using lifestyle and targeted supplementation.