HAMILTON, Mich. (WOOD) — Allegan County’s medical director says an outbreak of whooping cough among teens may be caused by a less effective vaccine that went into use in the early 1990s.
Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a contagious respiratory illness that initially presents like the common cold, according to the Michigan Department of Community Health. After a week or two, a more serious cough develops. Babies and children will cough so forcefully and rapidly that they empty their lungs of air and have to inhale loudly, creating the ‘whooping’ sound that gives the illness its common name. Adults and adolescents can get a milder type of the illness, but can still spread it to younger children and babies.
Allegan County’s medical director, Dr. Richard Tooker, told 24 Hour News 8 he thinks this year may go down in history as the county’s worst ever for whooping cough.
There were four cases of whooping cough in Allegan County in 2011. Tooker said that was typical. In 2012, there were 27 cases. There were 25 case in 2013.
There have already been 26 cases this year. 21 of those have happened since August. Most have affected Hamilton High School students, but there have also been cases reported involving middle school students.
Tooker said there are many more cases that his office expected, even though the number of cases has been on the rise for the last decade.
“We have a definite problem with one of our vaccine-preventable diseases.” — Dr. Richard Tooker
The problem isn’t that the children getting sick haven’t received their pertussis vaccination. All of the Hamilton students who have been diagnosed with the illness have been properly vaccinated.
“We recognize, in all likelihood, the vaccine doesn’t produce long-term immunity like it used to,” Tooker said.
The first whooping cough was developed in 1947 in Grand Rapids by Pearl Kendrick and Joyce Eldering. The vaccine was changed in 1991 when it was believed that the earlier version could cause neurological damage.
“That has since been disproven,” Tooker said. “It is simply not the case. Although no vaccine is 100% safe, we decided as a nation to go to a different vaccine thought to be safer, but it is clearly not as effective.”
The Centers For Disease Control says the problem is nationwide. In 2012, there were 48,277 cases in the U.S. — the most since 1955. Whooping cough claimed 20 lives nationwide that year. Most of the deaths were of infants under the age of three months.
There have been no whooping cough deaths in Allegan County. But there have been a few in the state in the last couple of years. Tooker said that is unacceptable.
He said that even given waning efficacy, vaccination is still the best protection.
The CDC is recommends a booster for older adolescents and young adults. Pregnant women should get a booster in their third trimester of each pregnancy because infants are the most likely to die of whooping cough. Outside of pregnancy, adults should have one booster during their lives.
Tooker said he expects the CDC to begin convening expert panels to address the issue.
He said that there currently seems to be no end in sight to the steady increase in the number of cases.
Mary Wisinski, the Immunization Program Supervisor for the Kent County Health Department, joined Daybreak to talk about what’s causing the whooping cough outbreak and why the vaccine is less effective this year. Watch her full interview by clicking on the video player above.