Vaccines are pretty constantly in the news these days and comprise a large portion of medical research dollars. Every parent wants to know how to best keep their child safe and healthy and whether vaccines or other medical treatments are the way to go. There are many studies to support the use of vaccines, but none quite like the one that came out this week in the Journal of Pediatrics. And it’s finally a study that looks at one of the more controversial parts of vaccination- the impact of herd immunity.
This study didn’t look at infant vaccination or side effects, instead, it looked at vaccination in teenagers. And whether an increase in teenage vaccination for pertussis had any impact on infants.
The researchers compared pertussis hospitalization rates in 2000-2005, before Tdap boosters were recommended and available for teenagers, with the rate of infant hospitalizations in infants in 2008-2011, which was after 2 years of implementation of the universal booster recommendation. The results are definitely interesting, to say the leat.
The exact statistics on this study are a bit confusing, but essentially, what the study found was that there was a significant decrease in infant pertussis hospitalizations in 2008, 2009 and 2011, though the 2010 rate was not significantly different. Which, I think regardless of how you feel about vaccines, is a good thing. According to a CNN article, last year there were almost 50,000 cases of pertussis reported to the CDC and of those, 18 people died. So far, the rates are lower in 2013 which is great, but most studies show that the young infants who are most susceptible to pertussis contract it from an older sibling, so this study seems particularly relevant. These infants need the immunity of others to help protect them until they can develop their own immunity through vaccines and have a more robust immune and respiratory system.
There are some obviously limitations to this study. Like most medical research, this study found a correlation, not a causation, and no one is pretending otherwise. There are possibly other factors that influenced the rate of hospitalization among infants for pertussis, though we have seen similar decreases in diseases following universal vaccination, so it’s not hard to extrapolate a connection here.
If this study is any indication, the increased vaccination rates for this condition and others can go a long way to protecting even those who are not directly receiving the vaccine. By increasing vaccination rates even for the groups who are least likely to suffer complications, perhaps we can help catch those who are most at risk and keep everyone safer from these preventable illnesses.
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