Note: “Whooping Cough” and “Pertussis” are the same disease caused by the bacteria Bordetella pertussis.

The FDA has commented on a new study published in PNAS (The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) showing that the pertussis vaccine is “effective at preventing the disease among those vaccinated but … not preventing infection from the bacteria that causes pertussis in those vaccinated or its spread to other people.” In other words, the vaccine doesn’t prevent you from becoming a carrier and spreading it to people who cannot be protected against the disease. That means that infants under 3 months (the group at highest risk of death from pertussis) are potentially at a higher risk of contracting pertussis from vaccinated individuals because they will be carriers and no one will know that (1) they have the bacteria and (2) that it is contagious.

If you get the “disease” of pertussis (meaning the bacteria plus the symptoms of the disease) then you know something is wrong and you can make the responsible decision to keep away from infants (as anyone with an awful cough should do). According to the CDC:

“The disease is most dangerous for babies and young children. From 2000 through 2012, there were 255 deaths from whooping cough reported in the U.S. Almost all of the deaths (221 of the 255) were babies younger than 3 months of age.” However, children require a series of 5 shots to be “fully protected” against pertussis (which begins to decline 1 year after the last shot according to newer studies). The efficacy of the vaccine was found to occur initially after 3 shots (at 2 months, 4 months and 6 months of age). In other words, immunity does not happen until after the danger zone has passed.

Because of this, the CDC issued recommendations that families practice “cocooning” to protect the infant. That means that everyone in close contact with an infant should be vaccinated for pertussis. What this study is suggesting is that the CDC recommendation, rather than protecting infants, may actually be harming them. This then increases the risk of an infant getting pertussis. To reiterate, if you are not vaccinated, you are much more likely to have symptoms and know something is wrong. This then allows you to make a decision to avoid contact with infants (and others) where possible. However, if you received the pertussis vaccine, you could be a carrier and infect infants without having any idea that you had the disease and were capable of infecting someone. Even worse, the average person that gets a vaccination tends to assume they don’t have the disease. For example in many hospitals if you work there and don’t get a flu vaccine they require you to wear a mask so you don’t infect others…implying that those that got the flu vaccine are somehow not infectious…as absurd as that sounds, it is policy in many hospitals.

The FDA further noted that “Whooping cough rates in the United States have been increasing since the 1980s and reached a 50-year high in 2012.” “There were 48,000 cases reported last year despite high rates of vaccination,” said Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., director of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He also suggested that “improved ways to prevent the disease from spreading” need to be found.

Our advice has always been, and continues to be, to isolate your infant from other people as much as possible until at least 3 months of age (preferably 6 months). Vaccinating for pertussis is not only a false sense of security, it may actually increase the risk your infant will get pertussis. Even in non-vaccinated individuals, pertussis can be spread before the cough appears, so best to play it safe.


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