Whooping Cough Rates in Fully Vaccinated Children Point to Need for More Frequent Boosters

Boy with PertussisA recent study published in the journal BMJ found that almost 20% of fully vaccinated children in the United Kingdom with a persistent cough have whooping cough, or pertussis, indicating a possible need for more frequent booster shots.

A similar study from California published in 2011 came to a similar conclusion: The pertussis vaccine is effective for only three years.

Pertussis, or whooping cough, initially causes symptoms similar to the common cold but can result in seizures, pneumonia, brain damage, and death. The only effective means of preventing the whooping cough is the pertussis vaccine. According to current recommendations, the combination DTaP vaccine should be administered at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, and between 15 and 18 months; between 4 and 6 years; and between 11 and 12 years and between 13 and 18 years for children on a catch-up schedule.

However, recent research indicates that children may need more frequent pertussis vaccine boosters.

For the present study, the researchers examined 279 children between the ages of 5 to 15 years who presented in primary care with a persistent cough lasting two to eight weeks. In total, 20% of the children had whooping cough including 18% who were considered fully vaccinated.

Additionally, the risk of whooping cough increased as the interval between the most recent pertussis booster increased.

States lead author Dr. Kay Wang:

“The results of our study will help inform ongoing discussions about whether an adolescent booster vaccination should be introduced in the UK. However, more evidence is still needed on the socioeconomic burden of whooping cough in this age group.

“If current discussions conclude that an adolescent pertussis booster vaccination is likely to be cost-effective, administering this alongside the existing routine adolescent booster vaccinations (meningococcus C and tetanus, diphtheria, and inactivated polio) may be the most efficient way of ensuring high vaccination coverage.”

The findings of the present study as well as previous studies may help inform the recommended vaccine schedule. More frequent pertussis boosters may be necessary to increase the efficacy of the vaccine.

Another recent study from 2013 concluded that pregnant women should receive the pertussis vaccine during the third trimester. Infants and newborns under the age of three months account for the majority of deaths from the whooping cough. Receiving the pertussis vaccine during pregnancy may provide  young babies with some immunity against the disease.


Almost 20% of fully vaccinated children with persistent cough ‘have whooping cough’:
Whooping cough in school age children presenting with persistent cough in UK primary care after introduction of the preschool pertussis booster vaccination: prospective cohort study:

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