Category: Vaccines

DTaP Vaccine and Whooping Cough Epidemic – What to Do?

July 30th, 2010 by

What do you think about vaccinations, or DTaP in particular with whooping cough (Pertussis) seeing a resurgence? Share your story below.

I stated reading about vaccines even before I became pregnant. It’s not an easy topic, neither the science nor the emotions. So I wanted to have a handle on it before pregnancy. Well, funny thing… I’m learning that with children, you can think you have it all figured out but it can change pretty quickly once your precious little baby is in your arms.

(I’m not a doctor so I’m not prescribing a plan for you in this post. I ALWAYS recommend doing your own research as well as discussing this with your child’s pediatrician so you can make an informed decision.)

The first thing I came to realize is that not all vaccines are the same. Some carry more risk than others. Some protect against diseases with different risks than others. For instance, take Polio… super unlikely but a terrible disease. And then there’s the joke of the vaccine world, Rotavirus… everyone gets this bug when they’re a kid but, LOL, it’s just plain old diarrhea. (The risk is if you get too dehydrated and are a hundred miles from an IV drip, like in Africa.) And some vaccines are simply more effective than others at offering protection. I quickly came to see that, while vaccines have polarized a lot of people (“pro” vs. “anti” vaccine), the reality is just not black-and-white. It’s more complicated.

Most complex of all.. nobody really knows the cumulative risk of loading up on so many vaccines at such an early age. The science is weak here. The current CDC vaccine schedule calls for a lot more vaccines than we adults had when we were kids (and, despite this, I don’t recall many terrible epidemics as a kid).?? It also calls for more vaccinations than many other industrialized nations, such as Sweden, Finland, and Iceland. These countries schedule far fewer vaccines… also seemingly without zombie hordes of infected people taking over their little Nordic utopia. And call me cynical, but when the CDC’s advisory committee that writes the schedule has members who are the ones selling the vaccines… well, that’s just dumb.

This brings me to today… there is an outbreak of whooping cough in California. Here are the things that come into play for my family. California is next to Arizona, where we live, so whooping cough (pertussis) could realistically come here, and probably will. Kamea is one month old. The traditional time to start the DTaP vaccine is at two months. (The pertussis vax is the “P” in DTaP.) The first shot only provides about ~65% immunity, so the schedule calls for three more later on (and still with no guarantee of immunity, but about 95%). Whooping cough can be bad even for toddlers, but deaths are almost always infants under 6 months old. So the most relevant period is a 4-month window from 2 to 6 months of age. Unfortunately, Kamea will soon fall into this category.

I’ll be honest… I’m terrified to assault her young system with the shot. Decades ago, when kids were getting far fewer vaccines, manufacturers started combining the pertussis vax with diptheria and tetanus vaccines into one shot (hence, “‘DTaP”), for everybody’s convenience. Problem is, kids get a lot more total vaccines now, and diptheria and tetanus are less of a concern to a 2-month-old (unless your baby teethes on rusty nails), but they don’t offer the pertussis vaccine all by itself to the general population. (Mark my words: In a few years, they will, due to public demand.)

So the only way to vaccinate Kamea against pertussis is to subject her to a couple of other less important vaccines. Furthermore, the pertussis vaccine is allegedly the most offensive of the three. And after further research, Kamea might not be a good candidate for the vaccine. 1) There are contraindications: our family has a bad history of hay fever and milk allergies. 2) She is breast-fed (formula babies have weaker immunity). 3) She is never around other children and both her parents work from home (so less likelihood of catching the disease). 4) There have been no cases of pertussis reported in AZ (yet, at least). And again, 5) during her “risky” window, the shot only provides 65% immunity to begin with. With all of these factors, you can see how it’s not just a simple decision. Perhaps something will change, such as a breakout in Arizona, that would change the equation.

All this research and fretting…?? for just one vaccine! It’s no wonder so many parents end up going “all or none” when it comes to vaccines, because it’s easier to make one big decision than dozens of small ones. Fortunately, pressure from concerned parents is getting to the point that a growing number of pediatricians have begun asking the CDC for an optional, alternate schedule for those parents who share these concerns. I expect it will happen eventually, for the simple reason that overall vaccinations will likely increase as a result, because so many parents who would accept a milder schedule are currently opting out completely. And this total opt-out is what the CDC fears the most, because if enough people do it, the population as a whole could lose what’s called “herd immunity,” which makes large-scale epidemics exponentially more likely.

Each family needs to inform themselves about the risks/benefits of each vaccine, and factor in their own lifestyle. Are you breastfeeding? Using formula? Does your household have a lot of “disease vectors” (siblings, haha), are your kids at school? Homeschooled? Riding in subways? Playing in the woods? Traveling overseas?… this last question alone is a whole other animal to consider, as many diseases that have been long forgotten in industrialized countries are still on the rampage in developing countries.

Kamea sees both a naturopathic doctor as well as an MD pediatrician. They each bring their own perspective, styles, approaches, biases, and unique types of expertise. And fortunately, they play nice… they’re both respectful toward the input of the other, and in particular, respectful of our specific questions and concerns. In short, they’re open-minded, as we try to be… our naturopathic doctor, for instance, doesn’t usually cheer about vaccines, but he understands if parents want to vaccinate right now in our area due to the California epidemic, and he was the one who raised this issue when news of the outbreak hit. With such complex decisions to be made, if you’re going to try to make the best possible decisions, it helps to have as many non-dogmatic people as you can to give you their candid opinions.

What are your thoughts on the DTaP Vaccine and the whooping cough outbreak? Please share your story!