Panel Recommends Whooping Cough Vaccine for Adults
How about a little shot in the arm? No, you say? Vaccines are just for kids?
Well, not quite. Medical researchers around the globe are studying the effectiveness of immunization in adults. We are well-versed about the public health benefits of getting an influenza vaccine each year. What may not be quite as well known is the benefit of receiving booster shots of vaccines that you may not have received since you were a small child.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP)has updated their guidelines this week, recommending that adults over the age of 65 should be vaccinated against pertussis, better known as whooping cough.
Whooping cough is an infection caused by the bacteria Bordatella parapertussis. It causes a persistent cough which has a distinctive "whoop" sound. More common in children, it was a major cause of infant and child mortality prior to the advent of the pertussis vaccine in the 1940's. Since routine immunization of children against pertussis (along with diphtheria and tetanus, the DPT vaccine), mortality rates have decreased 99%.
The pertussis vaccine is an example of an inactivated vaccine. The pertussis bacterium is killed using heat or chemicals, and incorporated into vaccine. The body mounts an immune response against the inactivated microbe, affording the person protection against the disease. However, with most inactivated vaccines, immunity is not permanent. In fact, after 3-5 years, most protection against whooping cough has been lost.
So why the sudden need to immunize adults? While adults are less likely to contract pertussis, they are capable of transmitting the bacteria to vulnerable infants and children. In California in 2010, a whooping cough outbreak infected 9000 individuals; ten infants died after exposure to adults or older children who were carrying the bacteria.
The cost of an adult booster pertussis vaccine is relatively small, around $35. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) will likely amend their guidelines later this year, based on the aforementioned ACIP report.