An outbreak of pertussis or whooping cough in California has likely caught many people by surprise, after all, most kids get vaccines to protect them against pertussis as infants and toddlers and a booster before they start kindergarten. There is even a newer tetanus booster shot (Tdap) that includes the pertussis vaccine to help teens and adults get renewed protection against pertussis, which is important, since the immunity that the pertussis vaccine offers is at its strongest for only about 3 years and then gradually decreases over the next 2 to 7 years.
So why is pertussis still a problem? Many teens and adults haven't gotten a Tdap vaccine yet, can still get sick with pertussis, and can infect infants who haven't completed their three dose primary series of pertussis vaccines when they are about six months old. The fact that some parents are refusing vaccines or using alternative immunization schedules likely isn't helping prevent these types of outbreaks of vaccine preventable infections either.
So far in California, there are 1,496 confirmed cases of pertussis, with the highest rates in children under six months of age. Younger infants also have the highest rates of hospitalization and all six deaths, so far, have been in younger infants.
To help combat this outbreak, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) is urging that everyone get vaccinated against pertussis, including:
- anyone 7 years and older who is not fully immunized, including those who are more than 64 years old,
- women of childbearing age, before, during, or immediately after pregnancy, and
- other people who have contact with pregnant women or infants.
Even if you are not in California, this outbreak should be a reminder of how serious pertussis infections are and the importance of pertussis vaccines. Keep in mind that in addition completely the DTaP (Diphtheria, Tetanus, and acellular Pertussis) series of shots before starting kindergarten and getting a Tdap booster shot when they are 11 to 12 years old (or when they are older if they missed it), the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends that adults between the ages of 19 and 64 get a Tdap (Tetanus, Diphtheria, and acellular Pertussis) vaccine if it has been 10 or more years since their last tetanus booster shot.
Adults who will have contact with infants less than 12 months old, including parents, grandparents aged <65 years, child-care providers, and health care workers, should get a Tdap vaccine if they have not had one yet, even if it has been less than 10 years since their last tetanus booster.