September 14, 2012 — New research published in the New England Journal of Medicine is raising concerns that the vaccine for Whooping Cough (pertussis) may lose effectiveness far more quickly than previously thought. Children are normally vaccinated against Whooping Cough with the DTaP vaccine, which is administered in five doses until they are about seven years old. Researchers found that protection against Whooping Cough declines by 42% per year after the fifth dose.
Since the 1990s, most children have been vaccinated against Whooping Cough with DTaP (Diphtheria, Tetanus, and acellular Pertussis). Before DTaP, children received the DTP vaccine, which contained whole-cell pertussis. The whole-cell pertussis vaccine was associated with a higher risk of side effects, and replaced by the acellular pertussis vaccine.
Unfortunately, there is growing evidence that the acellular pertussis vaccine may have lower long-term effectiveness than previously thought. Both vaccines are about 95% effective at preventing Whooping Cough after the fifth dose. However, researchers have found that five years after the fifth dose of DTaP, children may only be 71% protected against Whooping Cough.
The researchers conducted the study at the Kaiser Permanente Vaccine Study Center. The study was based on data from 277 children who got Whooping Cough, compared with more than 3,000 children who did not get sick. This data was compared to an additional 6,000 children of the same gender, ethnicity, or age.
The authors of the study recommended that drug companies need to develop a more effective vaccine.
In recent years, Whooping Cough has caused several major outbreaks. One of the largest occurred in 2010, when more than 8,000 people got sick and 11 infants died. Children who are not vaccinated against Whooping Cough are eight times more likely to get the disease. Because infants are not protected against the disease, they are highly vulnerable during an outbreak.
Whooping Cough (or pertussis) is a highly contagious bacterial disease that infects the upper respiratory tract. It causes severe, uncontrollable fits of coughing that can inhibit breathing and cause severe oxygen deprivation, brain damage, and death. Whooping Cough is particularly dangerous when it infects infants, who can easily stop breathing during coughing fits. The most severe complications of Whooping Cough include brain damage due to lack of oxygen, permanent seizure disorders, bleeding in the brain (cerebral hemorrhage), and death.
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