Organic Consumers Association

Campaigning for health, justice, sustainability, peace, and democracy

Whooping Cough Reemergence Traced Back to Vaccine Failure and Flawed Assumptions

The pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine is included as a component in "combination" shots that include tetanus and diphtheria (DPT, DTaP, Tdap) and some pertussis-containing shots now also include polio, hepatitis B and/or Haemophilus Influenza B (Hib). Whole cell pertussis vaccines in DPT, used in the U.S. from 1949 until the late ‘90s, were estimated to be between 30 and 85 percent effective, depending upon the type of DPT and vaccine manufacturer, with protection lasting only two to five years.1

The DPT vaccine was highly reactive and carried a high risk of serious allergic reactions and brain inflammation leading to permanent brain damage, as detailed in the groundbreaking 1985 book DPT: A Shot in the Dark, co-authored by Barbara Loe Fisher, cofounder of the National Vaccine Information Center.

DTaP shots — which contain the less reactive acellular pertussis vaccine licensed for infants in the United States in 1996 — are given five times to children under age 6, with additional Tdap booster doses recommended for teenagers and adults. Since the late 1980s, CDC data shows that kindergarten children in the U.S. have maintained a high vaccination rate with four to five DPT shots and, today, more than 94 percent of kindergarten children have had four to five acellular DTaP vaccines.

Very high pertussis vaccination rates in the U.S. and many other countries for the past several decades should be more than sufficient to achieve vaccine-acquired herd immunity, if the theory of vaccine-acquired herd immunity is correct.2 Yet, despite high vaccine coverage, statistics show reported whooping cough cases continue to rise. So, what’s really going on?

Studies Show Pertussis Vaccine Doesn’t Work

Scientific findings suggest whooping cough vaccines — both whole cell and acellular — fail to provide adequate protection against infection and the transmission of infection. There are indications that subclinical and undiagnosed pertussis infections have been occurring since the early 1980s among both vaccinated and unvaccinated persons.

Now, a recently published scientific study3,4 confirms the acellular whooping cough vaccine does not work as expected — and that the continued circulatioin of the disease can be traced back to the vaccine itself. Unfortunately, the study authors still maintain the false notion that the older, more toxic whole cell pertussis vaccines were more effective at preventing the spread of whooping cough than the current acellular versions. According to the authors:

“Fundamental aspects of pertussis epidemiology and immunology were left unexplained following the introduction of wP [whole cell] vaccines in the 1950s. The wP vaccines worked: disease rates plummeted, mortality fell, and the pertussis problem appeared largely solved. The fact that we did not know then, and still do not know now, how wP vaccines did this was inconvenient and has remained problematic …

Had carriage studies been conducted … then this might have provided supportive evidence that infections were being blocked. But carriage studies were not done. Rather, it was assumed that because wP vaccines appeared to confer herd immunity, they therefore blocked carriage. In hindsight and in light of subsequent evidence, that assumption was probably correct.

It was subsequently assumed that aP [acellular] vaccines, most of which include combinations of adhesion protein antigens … that enable B. pertussis to bind to respiratory epithelium, would also block carriage. But, while logical, that assumption appears to have been incorrect.”

Whooping Cough Resurgence Traced Back to Vaccine Failure and Flawed Assumptions

In a nutshell, the authors of the new pertussis study blame the apparent global resurgence of whooping cough cases on the failure of acellular pertussis vaccines, which were licensed for infants in the U.S. in 1996 after parents in Japan in the 1970s, and parents in the U.S. in the early 1980s, lobbied for a purified pertussis vaccine to cut down on the numbers of children being brain damaged and dying from DPT shots.

The authors allege that acellular pertussis vaccines, which demonstrated superior safety and effectiveness in prelicensure clinical trials conducted in the 1990s, do not work the way older whole cell pertussis vaccines did, and that it is this difference that is causing reported cases of whooping cough to increase. In 2014, there were more than 32,000 reported cases of whooping cough in the U.S., most of which occurred in vaccinated populations.

However, evidence shows pertussis deaths dropped by 75 percent between 1922 and 1948, a year before the introduction of DPT in 1949. In 1948, the mortality rate was less than 1 pertussis death per 100,000, and this rate has not been surpassed since.5,6 So, the plummeting disease and mortality rates noted in the recently featured pertussis review were not the direct result of the whooping cough vaccine.

The authors allege that, while both acellular and whole cell pertussis vaccines may inhibit symptomatic disease (the actual coughing fits), the older whole cell vaccines to a large degree also appeared to block the spread of infection, while acellular vaccines do not as efficiently prevent disease transmission.

However, when you take a much closer look at this assumption — that only acellular vaccines produce asymptomatic carriers capable of spreading the disease while whole cell vaccines are incapable of doing the same thing — the scientific evidence demonstrates that the assumption is incorrect.  

The paper’s authors cite evidence that pertussis transmission “readily occurs” between infected animals vaccinated with an acellular pertussis vaccine and nearby uninfected and unvaccinated animals. As noted in the paper:

“Disease among infants <3 months old (i.e. too young to have been vaccinated) increased sharply in the late 1970s, coincident with declines in wP coverage rates. As wP coverage improved in the 1980s, pertussis incidence fell, including among young infants. Surprisingly, though, the infant rates stabilized in the 100–200 cases/100,000 infants/year range, even as disease among older age groups fell almost to zero.

Since those infants are unlikely to be their own reservoir for infection, a more plausible explanation was transmission from a sustained pool of asymptomatic older individuals in the population. This also emphasizes that even very high rates of wP vaccination may fail to completely interrupt pertussis transmission.”

However, a seminal 2014 infant baboon study published in PNAS gave strong evidence that both whole cell and acelullar vaccines are incapable of preventing infection or transmission of infection. The scientists found that whether baboons were vaccinated with whole cell or acellular vaccines, they were all capable of being infected, sometimes asymptomatically, and transmitting infection to other baboons.

The only difference was that baboons that had previously recovered from pertussis, or had been given whole cell pertussis vaccine, were infectious for a shorter period of time than those vaccinated with acellular vaccines.7

Get 20% off Mercola products, plus 20% of the sale goes to Organic Consumers Association.

Get Local

Find News and Action for your state:
Regeneration International

Cool the planet.
Feed the world.