The Department of Health is considering vaccinating all newborns for whooping cough. Health officials have come to this decision because of the drastic rise in the number of Pertussis cases in the country this year. The number of cases has risen by 3 times in the last one year.
The current vaccination program administers whooping cough (Pertussis) vaccine to infants at 2, 3 and 4 months of age. The disease is more fatal for newborns because the vaccine is not effective until 4 months of age. As a result, now vaccinating pregnant mothers is also being considered.
History of Pertussis vaccine
Whooping cough, also known as Pertussis is caused by the bacteria Bordetella Pertussis. The first vaccination developed against the disease in 1940s was known as DPT vaccine that offered protection against diphtheria and tetanus as well. This formulation was known to cause fever and seizures among the infants administered with it. Therefore, in the 1990s a new formulation known as DaTP was developed and approved by the FDA owing great pressure from the media and government. The vaccine was found to be effective and carried lesser side effects than the previous one.
Study on the new DaTP vaccine
However, last couple of years has seen a surge in the number of cases with whooping cough. Researches now attribute this to the inadequate studies on the DaTP vaccine before its release. They strongly feel that this new vaccine’s effects are not long lasting. This was demonstrated in the 2010 breakout where it was observed that more children closer to the age of 10 years were affected. Also, totally unimmunized children are making matters worse, as they are the ones who are first in the line of attack by the disease, with severe symptoms.
Future of the DTP vaccine
A long term solution to this problem will now mean further research and development of a better version of the current vaccine that includes more components of the old DTP vaccine. This is not an easy task because unlike other diseases, whooping cough occurs in the respiratory tract and a vaccine in the circulatory system (blood stream) will not produce the desired results.
Sarah Long, chief of infectious diseases section at the St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, Philadelphia, explains that for now the only solution is to administer the current DaTP vaccine to newborns at 6 weeks and then frequent booster doses up to the age of 12 years. Experts at the CDC have also recommended pregnant women to get vaccinated during the third trimester as a preventive measure. In addition, once the baby is born, the caregivers of the baby including grandparents must receive a shot of the vaccine.
As a parting word of advice, do not rely on herd immunity anymore, because this does not exist anymore.