New studies about DTaP vaccine have been making headlines over the last year or so, and causing anti-vaccine supporters to share dangerous opinions masqueraded as fact. It is increasingly common knowledge that we are having a global problem with pertussis (also known as “whooping cough”) as evidenced by this map (check out the green circles). Researchers are actively trying to determine why outbreaks are continuing to spread despite good vaccination rates.
Two recent studies have offered some clues. In one study, researchers found that vaccinated baboons were still able to transmit pertussis-causing bacteria to their unvaccinated cage-mates. This is challenging the concept of “cocooning” a newborn due to the possibility of a vaccinated person spreading infection even though they have little or no symptoms of pertussis. Other studies are continuing to demonstrate that the immunity provided by the DTaP vaccine does not last as long as previously thought, suggesting a change to the vaccine schedule, or the vaccine itself, would be beneficial to our families.
Standing alone, these studies do appear alarming. They seem to suggest that our families are not adequately protected from pertussis, regardless of being vaccinated or not. It is important, however, to understand that these papers are a small drop in the bucket that is DTaP vaccine research. Although certainly interesting, they only suggest new directions for further experiments and recommendations. They do not represent an about-face to the evidence that supports the necessity of the DTaP vaccine.
Alarmingly, some anti-vaccine enthusiasts are taking these studies, picking out pieces that fit into their narrative, and using these bits of knowledge to share damaging misinformation about the lack of need to vaccinate ourselves and our children against whooping cough. Some are even promoting and encouraging the dangerous practice of actively keeping everyone around a newborn unvaccinated, so that if an older child or adult becomes infected with pertussis they will become assuredly symptomatic and, in turn, will “intentionally isolate” themselves to avoid spreading the disease to the newborn. In addition, posts are encouraging pregnant women to avoid the DTaP vaccine “at all costs.”
This misinterpretation of the science is dangerous and naive. And despite the writer’s visible disclaimer stating, “I am not a doctor. This is a personal opinion piece”, it is still both personally and socially irresponsible.
Here are the actual facts that we know:
- It is true that the DTaP vaccine is not working as well we would like. However, it IS still working. The vaccine is indeed preventing illness in vaccinated children. In addition, the studies above confirm that it is the unvaccinated children that have a greater rate of getting disease. These studies do nothing to suggest that remaining unvaccinated will allow your family to be at a competitive advantage against whooping cough, nor do they suggest that contracting natural pertussis will decrease disease rates. These are very important facts to note.
- Primate studies are super useful. Primate studies are a great way to study patterns of disease, and can provide amazing insight into our human world. Remember, the results of the baboon research would be much more alarming if vaccinated primates were spreading disease to vaccinated primates. An important take-away is that the unvaccinated cage-mates were still the ones susceptible to disease, and not the other way around.
- Pertussis is sneaky. After all, it starts like any common cold. By the time the characteristic “whoop” is heard, the infected individual has already coughed bacteria all over the place. Ensuring that an unvaccinated infant is not exposed to pertussis is practically impossible, especially with other people in the home. In addition, it is important to know that acquiring natural pertussis does not provide lifelong immunity. The best defense is still for all the people around an infant to get vaccinated as soon as possible, and on schedule.
- Pregnant women should be getting the TDaP vaccine during the 3rd trimester of every pregnancy. In addition to protecting the mother, this is an attempt to protect the unborn baby. After the shot, the mom’s level of protective antibody rises in her own bloodstream and is passed to her baby through the umbilical cord. It’s a way for the mother’s immune-system to do “heavy lifting” while letting the infant reap the benefits. The antibodies shared from mom to baby last about 12 weeks after the baby is born, helping to protect the infant until the DTaP vaccine can be given so that active protection continues unabated.
- Changes are likely coming. These studies are a wonderful example of how science is constantly refining itself and taking steps to make the health of our families better. As our leading immunologists acquire more data, adjusted vaccine schedules – or even new vaccines – may be available in the future.
The moral of the story is that the DTaP still matters. For infants and children, they should receive all doses of the vaccine, and on time. Pregnant women should be getting vaccinated to protect their new babies. Expect changes to the vaccine schedule in the future, but until then, use please valid sources of information to make vaccine choices for your family.
If you have any questions or concerns about your child’s vaccinations in Cape Coral or the surrounding areas, please don’t hesitate to contact MacKoul Pediatrics
MacKoul Pediatrics is an amazing local pediatrics office in Cape Coral, FL where caring, compassionate doctors and nurses work with you to keep your children as healthy as possible. MacKoul cares for children from birth to college age, from Cape Coral, Fort Myers, Naples, and beyond.
June 12, 2015