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Whooping Cough, Experts Say Vaccinate

Whooping Cough, Experts Say Vaccinate
Last week, a one-month-old baby died in a San Diego hospital of complications from whooping cough. Find out why whooping cough is now an epidemic in California, who is most at risk and how to protect yourself and your family.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. Whooping cough sounds like one of those old-fashioned illnesses like dropsy or house maid's knee. Maybe that's one reason that until recently, whooping cough or as its formally known, pertussis, was not taken as a serious threat by the general public. But now that pertussis has reached epidemic proportions in California and has claimed the life of an infant in San Diego we're all realizing this old-fashioned disease has flared up with a vengeance. I’d like to welcome my guests. Dr. Mark Sawyer is a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Rady Children's Hospital. Dr. Sawyer, welcome to These Days.

Additional Resources

Whooping cough information and new vaccination recommendations.

Thirty years ago, whooping cough had nearly disappeared. Today, it's back. KPBS and the Watchdog Institute at SDSU are working together to look at who’s getting sick, facts about the vaccine, and how public health agencies have responded.

DR. MARK SAWYER (Pediatric Infectious Diseases, Rady Children’s Hospital): Good morning, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: And Dr. Dean Sidelinger is Deputy Public Health Officer for San Diego County. Dr. Sidelinger, thank you.

DR. DEAN SIDELINGER (Deputy Public Health Officer, San Diego County): Good morning.

CAVANAUGH: And I’d like to invite our listeners to join our conversation. If you have questions about whooping cough or about the vaccine, if you know someone who’s ill, if you’re concerned about your child going back to school, give us a call at 888-895-5727, that’s 1-888-895-KPBS. We are seeing the most cases of whooping cough in California in the last 50 years. And, Dr. Sidelinger, what do you attribute that to?

DR. SIDELINGER: Well, I can’t say exactly what we attribute it to but each year we see whooping cough or pertussis year round, and it peaks in the summer months. In addition to that, about every 5 to 7 years we see an increased number of cases. We’re not exactly sure why but our last year that we saw increased cases was in 2005 so now that it’s 2010, we’re kind of following that trend and then, you know, on top of that we’re seeing cases that really are much increased over what we’ve seen in the last 50 years in California. Part of that could be we have increased awareness among our community and among our healthcare providers to test, or we may just be seeing more disease. We can’t say for sure how much of each contributes to this.

CAVANAUGH: How much might be because more people aren’t getting the vaccine?

DR. SIDELINGER: With the current whooping cough cases, I don’t think they’re as linked to people not getting the vaccines as, say, the measles cases we saw in San Diego earlier this year and in 2008. With whooping cough, as with some other vaccines, there’s a waning of immunity after the vaccine so adolescents and adults simply don’t have the immunity they had when they were kids right after they finished their vaccines and for that reason a booster shot was developed against pertussis and we began using that about 5 years ago. So now our 10- to 11-year-olds get that as part of their routine kind of middle school shots but we’re trying to catch up our older adolescents and our adults to make sure they get the protection against this disease which can, unfortunately, be very serious for some of our youngest community members.

CAVANAUGH: Dr. Sawyer, do you find that there’s a certain resistance to people getting vaccinated against whooping cough?

DR. SAWYER: Well, I don’t think so. I agree with Dr. Sidelinger. In this case, the small subset of our population who have concerns about vaccines, I don’t think are playing a big role. I think the bigger factor is that people aren’t aware that they need to get this vaccine, particularly adults. As Dr. Sidelinger mentioned, the vaccine’s fairly new, it’s been out for five or six years. It’s recommended for all adults up to 64 years of age. Everyone should get at least one of these vaccines and it’s called Tdap, T-d-a-p, so I would encourage the community when – the next time they’re in their physician (sic) office, to find out if they’ve had one and, if not, to get one.

CAVANAUGH: I think a lot of people assume that if you’ve been vaccinated against a disease that that’s it, that you’re now, you know, immune. And that’s not the case with this.

DR. SAWYER: Right. It depends on the vaccine. Some vaccines, that’s true. In general, once you’re immunized with measles, you’re good to go. But whooping cough is not the case and, as Dr. Sidelinger said, the vaccine seems – the immunity from the vaccine seems to wear off over time. So although it’s not yet a recommendation, I think we’re likely to see a recommendation that adults and older children get this vaccine every 10 years, the way we get a tetanus vaccine now every 10 years. And, by the way, the T-d-a-p, the ‘t’ and the ‘d’ are the same things that we get as tetanus vaccines so all we’ve done is added whooping cough to the previous tetanus vaccine. And I think we’re going to be getting it every 10 years.

CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Dr. Mark Sawyer. He’s a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Rady Children's Hospital. And Dr. Dean Sidelinger is Deputy Public Health Officer for San Diego County. And we’re taking your calls about the whooping cough epidemic. 1-888-895-5727. Now when we use the word epidemic, Dr. Sidelinger, it always – it has this popular connotation of something that’s truly awful. However, there is an actual technical way that you develop whether or not a disease has reached epidemic proportions.

DR. SIDELINGER: Correct. When the state, you know, refers to whooping cough as an epidemic, they’re really looking at the number of cases we’re seeing this year, comparing it to the previous year, and to years before that and really seeing a very big increase over what we’ve seen in the past. So it’s that increased number of cases that the state is looking at when they refer to an epidemic. And as we see more cases, we’re also going to see more of the serious side effects or the serious problems from whooping cough. And, you know, tragically, you mentioned the infant who died last week here in San Diego from pertussis. That follows on the tragedy for six other families in the state of California who’ve lost babies to pertussis this year. So I think, you know, the epidemic truly refers to those numbers but as those numbers go up, we do see more of the serious consequences and the tragedy that this can have for families.

CAVANAUGH: Is it truly a statewide epidemic or are there pockets in the state that are more severe than others?

DR. SIDELINGER: There are definitely – We look at diseases by counties and there’s some counties that have many more cases than other counties. But they’re seeing that across the state, so it’s not isolated to Southern California or to the Bay Area or another part. There are counties spread out across the state of California that are seeing this huge number of cases this year. You know, San Diego County is one of those. We’re not at the top for the number of cases but we certainly are for when you compare our cases to last year, to all the years we have, we’re much increased over that. You know, we’re a little over halfway through the year and we’ve already surpassed last year’s number of cases that we saw all year.

CAVANAUGH: We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. And let’s hear from Vicky calling from San Diego. Good morning, Vicky, and welcome to These Days.

VICKY (Caller, San Diego): Good morning. I have a three-part question. I’m pregnant. I’m due in about 4 weeks, and I was calling about getting the vaccination while pregnant. In addition, I had my tetanus shot two years ago so I didn’t know if that was a contraindication, if it was too soon. And, lastly, my mother’s coming in town to help me with the baby. She’s 68. Is she too old to get the vaccine?

CAVANAUGH: Terrific, Vicky. Yes, Dr. Sawyer.

DR. SAWYER: Those are excellent questions, and those are questions that all of us have had recently. In response to this outbreak, the California State Immunization branch and Department of Health have issued new guidelines for providers on each of those topics. And the first one is during pregnancy. There’s nobody closer to a newborn baby than the mother and so we are very interested in having women immunized either before pregnancy or during pregnancy or after pregnancy. And, certainly, if it’s after pregnancy, we want it done immediately after pregnancy so that when they take their baby home, they’re protected. So the new state guidelines are to immunize during pregnancy, during the second or third trimester, so you’re in good shape, Vicky, at – and almost at the end is a perfect time to get immunized. The same goes for grandma and grandpa. The vaccine has been used recently only up to age 64 but, again, the new California state guidelines have recommended giving it above that age. In this situation, when there’s a newborn about to come into the family, we would like everybody in that family, the siblings and the parents and the grandparents immunized.


DR. SAWYER: And the last question was the interval question.


DR. SAWYER: And that’s been on physicians’ minds for a number of years now because we’re having growing data that shows that the interval is not a problem and not a reason to delay the immunization. And so, again, part of the state guidelines are to give the new Tdap vaccine regardless of when you previously received a tetanus shot. So, yes, the answer to all your questions are, get immunized, get immunized, get immunized.

CAVANAUGH: That’s very good. Thank you so much. And let me take another call. Barbara is calling from San Diego. Good morning, Barbara, and welcome to These Days. Oh, Barbara, you’re going to have to turn off your radio, and we’ll come back to you. Sandy is calling from Rancho Bernardo. Good morning, Sandy, and welcome to These Days.

SANDY (Caller, Rancho Bernardo): Good morning.


SANDY: Hi. Yes, my question, I guess is pretty much answered. I’m 69 and wondered if I should get the vaccine. But I did want to say my sister was about 65 and contracted this and she was a very sick woman for about six months. So it’s not a fun thing.

CAVANAUGH: Sandy, thanks for the call. Dr. Sidelinger, what are the symptoms of whooping cough? I mean, how do you know you have it?

DR. SIDELINGER: Well, whooping cough can start with symptoms as simple as the common cold with some congestion, some runny nose, sometimes some low grade fever and these symptoms can proceed and you cough. Most people do have a cough and that cough can be so severe that it occurs kind of in clusters where people have trouble catching their breath and that’s where the name of the disease comes from…


DR. SIDELINGER: …because those people cough and cough and cough, they breathe in very deep to try and catch their breath and that sounds like a whoop. And so that’s where the name whooping cough comes from. Some people cough so severely that they may actually throw up after they cough. So, again, you know, this may start as an innocuous kind of common cold. It may last several days to a week or so, and then the cough begins. In our youngest infants, they often get more severe symptoms because they’re unable to cough up kind of the secretions, the mucus that’s made in their lungs and that’s why the youngest infants tend to have the most problem. But in adults, you know, it can just be a nuisance, it can be a more severe disease. As Sandy just mentioned, it causes people, you know, not to be able to do things for a while and – because they’re really having trouble catching their breath.

CAVANAUGH: And Dr. Sawyer.

DR. SAWYER: Yeah, there’s actually been some studies that adults miss, on average, a week of work when they get the whooping cough so it’s a miserable disease and you’re up at night coughing all night long and you just feel crummy. So it’s not pleasant for adults but it’s particularly dangerous for infants.

CAVANAUGH: Are there any side effects to the vaccine?

DR. SAWYER: The vaccine’s very safe. I mean, like any vaccine, it can give you a sore arm when you get the injection. That’s quite common as a side effect. But there are no serious side effects that have been described that are at all common, extremely rare. And as with all vaccines and, in fact, as with everything we do in medicine, people need to look at the risk versus the benefit. And right now there’s no question that the benefit of this vaccine is immense because we’re having lots of cases, as we’ve already talked about and the only way to really be protected is to get vaccinated.

CAVANAUGH: We are talking about whooping cough and we’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Let’s see if we can go to Barbara in San Diego. Good morning, Barbara, and welcome to These Days.

BARBARA (Caller, San Diego): Thank you. I had the whooping cough when I was about 8 or 9 years old. I can still remember how desperately sick I was. But the worst part was that I gave it to my father who – which debilitated him for like two years. Now my question is, having had whooping cough, you know, decades ago, would I want to get vaccinated again? Or am I now immune?

CAVANAUGH: Dr. Sawyer.

DR. SAWYER: Another great question. We used to think that once you had the whooping cough you were immune for life but we’ve learned more recently that that’s not true, that the immunity you get from the disease, just like the immunity that you get from the vaccine, wears off over time. So, yes, the answer to your question is you should get immunized just like everybody else.

CAVANAUGH: You seem to be saying just about everybody should get immunized. Is there any – are there any groups of people that should think twice before they go for this immunization?

DR. SIDELINGER: Anybody who’s had a reaction to a whooping cough vaccine in the past, certainly we wouldn’t want to give it to, and individuals who are younger than two months old aren’t old enough yet to get their vaccine. But other than that, it’s pretty universal. What we’re saying, there’s a particular type of the whooping cough vaccine DTaP, which is available for children up to six years old and then the Tdap vaccine that Dr. Sawyer described earlier is available for everyone else. So pretty much everyone should have this vaccine and all older children or adults should have their booster.

CAVANAUGH: I want to talk specifically about infants in just a moment or two but when we’re talking about older children and adults, how is the illness transmitted from person to person, Dr. Sidelinger?

DR. SIDELINGER: As someone has a runny nose or coughs, it’s spread via the air to the people around them. And so, you know, we’ve heard from a couple of people who’ve had pertussis on the phone either as children or as adults that were miserable and certainly, you know, when you’re miserable and you’re staying home and coughing you’re not spreading it to too many people except your family but in those early days of the illness you may just have more mild symptoms and you’re out working, you’re out going to school, and able to spread it to other people. So it’s very important. It’s spread to the people around us and, you know, we spend the most time with our families and the people in our households and that’s why it’s very easily spread in those settings.

CAVANAUGH: And Dr. Sawyer.

DR. SAWYER: I think one thing people don’t appreciate about whooping cough is how contagious it is. It’s almost as contagious as the chicken pox. We think about the chicken pox getting through a whole household and almost every child gets it one after another after another. The same thing happens with the whooping cough and so if you’re in a family where one or two or three people have been coughing over the last several weeks or month, it’s likely that you’re dealing with the whooping cough right now.

CAVANAUGH: I think that there’s a common apparently misconception but you can straighten me out on this, that the whooping cough follows an illness like a cold or a flu or something like that. But what you seem to be saying is you can just pick up this disease on its own. Is that right, Dr. Sidelinger?

DR. SIDELINGER: Correct. You could be, you know, healthy and haven’t been sick for weeks, months or years and if you’re exposed to someone who has whooping cough and you haven’t been vaccinated, you don’t have that protection, you’re likely going to be sick with the whooping cough.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take a call now from John calling us from San Diego. Good morning, John. Welcome to These Days.

JOHN (Caller, San Diego): Hi. Good morning.


JOHN: Hi. I’m 57 and I’m also a 30-year survivor of HIV/AIDS. And I can almost remember the day when I heard somebody coughing and I thought what is that sound? It was the beginning of June. And within, say, I’d say, less than a week I developed a cough. Within three days my aunt told me—if I’m 57, you can imagine what age she is—that it sounded like whooping cough. Went to the doctor. It was continuous. Told them I was coughing up blood in my mucous when I was coughing, told them I was doubled over the bath – over the toilet trying to catch my breath and I was like almost throwing up, waking up almost choking. And not one person—what’re we in July, August now?—and to hear it on the news now and to hear, you know, friends telling me in San Francisco it’s been in the newspaper, and I’ve e-mailed my doctor and different people and to get back no proper information about it is so infuriating. And it still hasn’t totally gone away. I keep a little cup by my bed or if I’m watching television, I keep it kind of close by because every so often it just gets the thing and you are almost like you feel like you’re drowning. You’re catching your breath. Your head’s going off. And I put my back out as well…


JOHN: …coughing so hard constantly. And it’s amazing to me to see that this is only – and that nobody has said get yourself immunized or anything, booster shots, none of that stuff. It was just passed off like, oh, you’ve just got a cough.


JOHN: Yet everybody, lay people out there seem to know about it more than the doctors that were treating us and I just don’t understand that.

CAVANAUGH: Well, John, we’ll get an answer to that. We have to take a short break. We’ll get an answer to that after the break. I want to thank you so much for sharing your story with us. Really hope you’re feeling better soon. And I want to invite other people to join the conversation at 1-888-895-5727. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.

CAVANAUGH: Welcome back. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. My guests are Dr. Dean Sidelinger. He is Deputy Public Health Officer for San Diego County. And Dr. Mark Sawyer, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Rady Children's Hospital. And we’re talking about pertussis, whooping cough. It has reached epidemic proportions in California. And we’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. We have a little sound from a child who is affected with pertussis and this is why they call it whooping cough.

(audio clip of child coughing)

CAVANAUGH: That really is a terrible sound, and an infant having to suffer that. But you were also making the point, Dr. Sawyer, that not everyone who gets this disease sounds like that.

DR. SAWYER: Right, and this is part of the answer to the caller before the break. Adults, although occasionally will whoop, it’s rarely as dramatic as that and many times they don’t whoop at all, and they just have a cough and a cough that goes on for days and days and days. And so it’s very challenging for physicians to recognize that they may be seeing a case of pertussis or whooping cough. It looks like asthma, it looks like bronchitis, you know, there are many things that make you cough. So it’s a challenge for doctors. Fortunately, we have better tests now than we did five or ten years ago and we’re in better shape to diagnose pertussis but, you know, doctors are just learning about this, too. They’re learning about the epidemic just as the community is, they’re learning about the new recommendations for the vaccine just as the community is. So there’s a lot of new information out there about whooping cough.

CAVANAUGH: And Dr. Sawyer, John, our caller, said that he’s been having whooping cough for about a month. How long does it go on?

DR. SAWYER: Well, you know, the Chinese call it the hundred day cough. And it is certainly not unusual for adults to be coughing for many weeks and occasionally more than a month. Now a hundred days may be stretching it a little bit but the cough goes on for a very long time, and that is one of the characteristics. So if you’ve been coughing for several weeks, you know, you probably have pertussis.

CAVANAUGH: Now we’ve been talking about a vaccine to prevent pertussis. If you do, in fact, contract the disease, how are people treated?

DR. SIDELINGER: They’re treated with some very common antibiotics that are very effective against this disease and that’s one of the things we’re working with our doctors, our medical community, to think about pertussis when people come in with these long term coughs. If they can’t make the diagnosis just based on the symptoms and what they’re seeing, test for pertussis, and then treat that individual. We have antibiotics to treat that individual, and treat the people around them and their family to prevent them from getting the disease, and vaccinate. You know, we want doctors to do all of that. But we do have very effective treatments and so that we can, you know, get people’s cough shortened and so that they’re feeling better sooner.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s hear from our callers. A lot of people want to join the conversation, 1-888-895-5727. Or you can go online at Ron is calling us from El Cajon. Good morning, Ron, and welcome to These Days.

RON (Caller, El Cajon): Hi. Thanks for taking my call. My question is, does this whooping cough have any secondary hosts, particularly pets in the home? The reason I ask is my cat came up with a cough a couple weeks before I did. I’ll take the answer off the air.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you, Ron.

DR. SAWYER: I’m not sure I absolutely know the answer but, in general, the whooping cough that adults, that humans, get is just spread from human to human. I am not aware that it spreads from animals. But there is a pertussis or a bordetella is the genus name for this bacteria. There are bordetella species that do affect pets and dogs and it’s one of the things that dogs get vaccinated against. But it’s a different strain and not one that spreads from dogs to people.

CAVANAUGH: Interesting. Burma is calling us from Chula Vista. Good morning, Burma, and welcome to These Days.

BURMA (Caller, Chula Vista): I am – have a very bad reaction to diphtheria vaccine. Can you get the whooping cough without getting the diphtheria vaccine? And I know I can get tetanus without.

DR. SAWYER: Unfortunately, no. Right now, the only vaccine for adults that had been manufactured has diphtheria coupled together with both tetanus and the whooping cough. So if your reaction was, in fact, severe to diphtheria vaccine then you are one of the few people who probably should not get this vaccine.

CAVANAUGH: And, indeed, if you have a reaction to the tetanus vaccine you can’t get it either.

DR. SAWYER: Absolutely right.

CAVANAUGH: I see. Let us start to talk about infants because that – seven infants in San Diego – in California have died after contracting pertussis and, Dr. Sidelinger, why is it that infants can’t be immunized against this disease?

DR. SIDELINGER: The infants begin – we begin to immunize them at two months. That’s when their body’s ready to kind of mount an immune response to take the vaccine and help it create immunity in the body. So at two months, four months and six months, babies get their first shots against pertussis and many other diseases. So by about six months babies do have some protection. Younger than that, their immune system just isn’t able to mount the response with the vaccine so we have to wait until they’re two months old. Unfortunately, it’s those early months of life when babies are most susceptible to the complications. They – Again, they start with producing kind of more mucous and more secretions. These secretions can be in their lower airways and their lungs, and babies aren’t as strong as older kids and adults and aren’t able to cough that up as well and that’s one of the reasons we see more complications in babies, more need of them needing to be hospitalized because of their symptoms, and unfortunately, tragically, the seven deaths that we’ve seen across the state.

CAVANAUGH: And have you been treating many infants at Rady for pertussis?

DR. SAWYER: Yes, we’ve certainly had, you know, many babies in the hospital. It happens every year. It happens particularly in the spring and summer months, so it’s not unusual. But we are seeing more in the hospital, just as we’re seeing more in the community.

CAVANAUGH: And how – what kind of complications do these infants develop?

DR. SAWYER: Well, very young infants, interestingly enough, sometimes develop what we call apnea. They actually stop breathing, sometimes after an extended coughing spell and sometimes even without that. So that’s, we think, partly related to some toxins that this bacteria carries with it and brings and affects the brain, and in young infants they’re particularly susceptible to that. But as Dr. Sidelinger said, these thick secretions in the lung are really the primary problem so they have trouble getting enough oxygen in their bloodstream, they have trouble clearing these out, they sometimes get a pneumonia associated with it. And in the worst case, they get this accentuation or elevation of the blood pressure in the lung and that is really what is – can be fatal for young babies.

CAVANAUGH: Now I’ve been seeing some public service commercials on television, basically telling people that it’s up to the adults, it’s up to the older people to make sure that they’re vaccinated so that the younger, the youngest among us, these very tiny infants, don’t contract this disease. Tell us more about that idea, Dr. Sidelinger.

DR. SIDELINGER: Well, I think, you know, the youngest infants, again, have the highest risk for complications and they’re ineligible to get the vaccine. And even as they start getting their vaccine, they’re not fully protected. So while vaccination is something we encourage all parents to do for their children, for their families, it’s also something we do for the broader community because there are people in the community, our youngest infants, who are unable to be vaccinated, some people going through cancer treatment whose immune systems are weakened. We heard a call from someone earlier who had an HIV infection and their immune systems are often weakened, so they’re more susceptible to diseases. Often vaccines aren’t effective in them. And so, you know, we do have a role as a community to help protect those around us in addition to protecting ourselves.

CAVANAUGH: Exactly. Angela is calling us from Carmel Valley. Good morning, Angela, and welcome to These Days.

ANGELA (Caller, Carmel Valley): Good morning. Thank you for having me on the show. I just wanted to say, you know, my daughter had pertussis recently and she’s four years old. And I have to say we decided against antibiotics and the entire family did. All three of my children, ages 6, 4 and 2 got a slight touch of it but probably my middle child got it the worst. And after three days, she was fine. And we treated it with homeopathy and with just honey and homeopathic honey cough syrups. And I think we’re over-vaccinating our kids and I’m not saying that from some kind of paranoid position. I just think that they have done studies and it’s been shown that we’re – because so many of our people in our community are vaccinated against this and all my children have been vaccinated with the whooping cough and they still got it. And it’s creating a herd immunity because there’s no risk of sickness in our community, so it’s almost a lose-lose, really. And now my child’s going to be stronger. When she’s older and she had babies, she’s going to be able to pass that, you know, on to her babies because she’s already been able to fight it off on her own.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you for that. I think a lot of people feel the way our caller, Angela – And I’d like your reaction to that, Dr. Sawyer.

DR. SAWYER: Yeah, you brought up a number of good points. The most important one for me is to point out that this vaccine doesn’t work perfectly and that even people who are immunized can get the infection. You know, hopefully, someday we’ll have an even better vaccine. But it isn’t true that just because your child has had pertussis that her immunity is going to be transmitted to her baby. We haven’t seen that, that adults – I mean, a lot of people who are now having children or a generation before that had children, you know, their babies got pertussis just like everybody else does. And there’s a lot of information out there about vaccines and I, you know, my general message to people is just make sure they have accurate information when they’re making decisions about vaccines. And most important source for that information is your doctor. I think that if – that you – all doctors support immunization and it’s because we see the effect. And I’m glad your children, you know, had relatively mild cases of pertussis but, you know, what I worry about is them being around young infants and transmitting it to them. And as Dr. Sidelinger pointed out, this is a community endeavor here and if people aren’t protected, we’re going to continue to see the spread of the disease.

CAVANAUGH: When it comes to children, Dr. Sidelinger, how often should they be reimmunized against whooping cough?

DR. SIDELINGER: For children, they get their primary series, as we call it, as infants, two months, four months, six months, 15 to 18 months and then again before kindergarten. They’re due for a booster shot when they’re 10 to 11 years old. And right now, that’s the full series. As Dr. Sawyer mentioned before, those older children and adults are really recommended for one booster shot against pertussis in place of their tetanus shot but as we see how the immunity works for this vaccine, if it wanes over time, we may go to a series where people need that vaccine every ten years as a booster. So at 10 to 11 years old and again at 20 to 21, and again in their early thirties. That may be where we’re going. But right now, the recommendation is one at 10 to 11 years old or catch up our teenagers and our adults when they come in for their tetanus shot.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s try to squeeze in another call. Alan is calling from North Park. Good morning, Alan. Welcome to These Days.

ALAN (Caller, North Park): Good morning, Maureen.


ALAN: I’m a little bit leery about rushing out to get a vaccination. There are complications to getting vaccines. In fact, there’s a good organization called the National Vaccine Information Center of families who have strong feelings that after vaccinations their loved ones got quite ill and suffered disabilities for the rest of their life.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s get a reaction…

ALAN: So people should have a look and do so with caution.

CAVANAUGH: Alan, thank you for the call, and let’s get a reaction to that.

DR. SAWYER: Well, I’ll start. For me, the key word in there were the parents have strong feelings that their child suffered from vaccine. And I understand where those come from. People – We make temporal associations. If one thing happens and then something happens after it, we tend to connect those two events and assume that one caused the other. But there has been lots and lots of research looking at the safety of vaccines and what we need are not the feelings, it’s the science that really demonstrates whether vaccines are safe or not. And I can assure the community that vaccines are very, very safe. The infrastructure to study vaccine has been expanded over the last 10 or 20 years, partly in response to the concern that was referred to in the community, and we’ve stepped up, we’ve looked, enhanced our ability to study vaccine safety, and vaccines are very, very safe. And you have to weigh the risk versus the benefit just like with anything in medicine. And right now we’re in the middle of a whooping cough epidemic. We need to get protected as a community.

CAVANAUGH: I’m very, very short because we’re almost out of time. Anything that people should be concerned about with their children going back to school?

DR. SIDELINGER: I think, you know, parents should check those immunization records, make sure their children are up to date with their vaccines and send their kids back to school, you know, to be in front of those talented teachers and get an education. But really, it’s up to them to make sure they have the appropriate shots.

CAVANAUGH: Dr. Sidelinger, thank you so much. And thank you so much, Dr. Mark Sawyer, for speaking with us today. If you have comments, please go online, Stay with us for hour two of These Days coming up in just a few minutes right here on KPBS.

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