Whooping cough vaccine loses punch too fast
by Jeffrey Reynolds Sports Editor
WILLIAMSON — Despite a resurgence of whooping cough sweeping through the nation, Mingo County appears to have been spared an outbreak thus far.
Bernice Johnson, RN with the Mingo County Health Department, told the Daily News that there have been no confirmed cases of whooping cough reported in Mingo County this year.
“They would have come to us if we’d have had it,” she said.
There have, however, been cases reported within the state and in neighboring Kentucky, with the most recent being reported at a Cabell County school.
The reason for the outbreak, according to a study published in Wednesday’s New England Journal of Medicine, found that the safer vaccine introduced in the 90s loses effectiveness much faster than previously thought, with the protective effect weakening dramatically soon after a child gets the last of the five recommended shots around age 6.
The protection rate falls from about 95 percent to 71 percent within five years, said researchers at the Kaiser Permanente Vaccine Research Center in Oakland, Calif.
The U.S. has had more than 26,000 whooping cough cases so far this year, including more than 10,000 in children ages 7 to 10.
“The substantial majority of the cases are explained by this waning immunity,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious-disease specialist at Vanderbilt University.
However, there are ways to protect oneself from the disease besides utilizing a weakened vaccine.
“Practice good hand-washing techniques, don’t eat or drink after others and stay home from public places if you’re sick,” Johnson said. “Whooping cough is very easy to spread.”
Whooping cough is a highly contagious bacterial disease that can strike people of any age but is most dangerous to children. Its name comes from the sound children make as they gasp for breath.
It used to be far more common, causing hundreds of thousands of illnesses annually and thousands of deaths. Cases dropped after a vaccine was introduced in the 1940s, and for decades, fewer than 5,000 a year were reported in the U.S.
Because of side effects that included pain and swelling at the injection site, fever and apparently, in rare cases, brain damage, the vaccine was replaced in the 1990s. The newer version used only parts of the bacterium instead of the whole thing and carried fewer complications.
But cases of whooping cough began to climb, sometimes topping 25,000 a year during the past decade. Also disturbing: The proportion of cases involving children ages 7 to 10 — most of them vaccinated — rose from less than 10 percent before 2006 to nearly 40 percent this year, according to the CDC.
In light of the findings and earlier, similar research, health officials are considering recommending another booster shot for children, strengthening the vaccine or devising a brand new one.
Health officials have long recommended that children get vaccinated in five doses, with the first shot at 2 months and the final one between 4 and 6 years, and receive a booster shot at 11 or 12.
There’s a growing consensus that something more needs to be done. Ideas include somehow pumping up the effectiveness of the vaccine or developing a new one. French scientists have been working on an experimental nasal spray vaccine.
Other ideas include administering the booster earlier than age 11 or adding another booster.
While some parents around the country have taken a stand against childhood vaccines, the outbreak is not being driven by unvaccinated children, according to the CDC. Most of the illnesses are in vaccinated youngsters, officials said.
Dr. Maxine Hayes, health officer for the Washington State Department of Health, said it is important that people not mistake waning immunity for flat-out ineffectiveness.
The vaccine is “still the best thing we have,” she said. And vaccinated people who get whooping cough don’t get as sick.
Johnson recommended that all people, both children and adults, receive the Tdap vaccine, which protects against diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough. Older children and adults receiving the vaccine, she said, helps protect other people from ever getting it.
But she still emphasised the importance of cleanliness and quarantining oneself.
“Hand-washing is one of the most important things, and staying home from school,” Johnson said. “They might not have whooping cough, but it’s good to stay home just in case.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
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