Saturday, January 25, 2014

Why We Changed Our Mind about the Whooping Cough Vaccine (and you should, too)

Disclaimer: This is a personal opinion piece. I am not a doctor. This article is not intended to be medical advice. 

Before we had our son in 2010, I never dreamed I would be a mom who wouldn't vaccinate her kid "on schedule" - let alone one who would advocate that others should consider doing the same. Before he came, though, we did some research on the individual vaccines recommended by the CDC and after meeting with our pediatrician, came up with a personalized vaccine schedule for our son.

The schedule included the pertussis vaccine known as DTaP - designed to prevent whooping cough (among other things).

At the time, this seemed like a no-brainer. Working through the Eight Questions to Ask Before Vaccinating Your Child, we decided that even though there was aluminum in the vaccine (170-850 mcg depending on the brand), the worst whooping cough outbreak in the last decade was making its way up and down the west coast of the United States - where we live. Whooping Cough can be deadly to infants, this was offered as a way to prevent it, it seemed like an easy decision.

What changed?

We made the decision to go ahead with the pertussis vaccine in mid 2010 - at the start of the outbreak. Now, almost 4 years into the whooping cough epidemic, we have some more information that simply wasn't available four years ago. This information changes everything. Specifically: the pertussis vaccine isn't terribly effective and may actually be the CAUSE of the outbreak.

Vaccinated vs. Unvaccinated Kids

Right now, in 2014, the United States has the most highly vaccinated populace against pertussis that we have ever known. And yet, people are catching pertussis in record numbers. In fact, in a study done by doctors in California to retroactively evaluate the pertussis outbreak in California, it was found that 92% of patients confirmed to have pertussis were at least partially vaccinated against the disease - only 8% of patients were unvaccinated.(source)

The researchers themselves even expressed surprise to find there was no significant difference in attack rates between fully vaccinated, under vaccinated and unvaccinated children and that overall vaccine effectiveness was determined to be only 24% - 41% in kids under age 12, depending on age. (source)

"Cocooning" Theory

Based on the info above, the vaccine is clearly not working to prevent children from catching pertussis. Another theory that is commonly promoted is that in addition to vaccinating your kids, pregnant women and caretakers of children (parents, grandparents, etc) should be vaccinated to provide a protective cocoon around children - particularly those too young to be vaccinated. The theory is that as long as the caregivers do not catch and then give pertussis to these babies that their risk of contracting it is low. This is also turning out to be an inaccurate theory.

A study published in 2013 tested the efficacy of the vaccine by vaccinating infant baboons at 2, 4 and 6 months of age (on par with human vaccination schedule) and then exposed them to pertussis at age 7 months when their immunity should have been at its peak to see how well the vaccine prevented them from getting sick. While the vaccinated baboons did not develop severe pertussis symptoms following exposure, the animals still tested positive for having contracted pertussis AND readily transmitted pertussis to unvaccinated contacts.(source)

This is terribly concerning and even more dangerous than allowing caretakers to contract pertussis on their own! If an adult is exhibiting symptoms of disease - most of them will intentionally isolate themselves from children and others until their symptoms subside to avoid passing whatever they have around. If a vaccinated adult catches pertussis but has no symptoms, they will not know to avoid others - because they will no way to know if they have the disease. As such, they will continue to interact with children and others, thereby freely sharing the disease with both vaccinated and unvaccinated persons.

This is so concerning that I have specifically asked my parents to NOT get the pertussis vaccine in preparation for the birth of our new little one. I urge you to consider doing the same.

What about pregnant moms?

I am of the strong opinion that pregnant moms especially should avoid the DTaP and Tdap vaccines at all costs. Here is a short synopsis of why:
  • The DTaP and Tdap vaccines contain between 170-850 mcg of aluminum. Even if your doctor administers a brand with the lowest dose of aluminum possible, this much aluminum is toxic for a developing fetus who does not have the capacity to filter this out of their body and it can damage them.
  • Current evidence shows that at best, the vaccine will only prevent you from having symptoms of pertussis - if you really have pertussis but do not have symptoms, you will more easily transmit it to your child.
I also found this video from board certified pediatrician, Paul Thomas MD to be helpful in explaining why pertussis vaccines during pregnancy are a bad idea:

Please note that Dr. Paul even talks about the cocoon theory discussed above. While I have not discussed the cocoon theory with him since the study regarding baboons has come out, please note that this video was made before the study above was conducted.

Our Conclusion

So what does all this mean for me and my family? 

  • While our son is up to date on his pertussis vaccines (he is currently 3 years old), we will not be administering any boosters for pertussis
  • As a pregnant mom, I am refusing the DTaP vaccine (although, my personal OB hasn't even offered it to me, many OBs will administer this vaccine as a matter of routine)
  • I am asking caretakers of my children to please consider not getting the DTaP or Tdap vaccines.
I hope some of this information and how we came to our personal vaccine conclusion informs this debate a bit more as well as debunks the myth that parents of unvaccinated children are the cause of the current pertussis outbreak.

For further reading, please also see: 

About the Author: 
Carissa used to think that people who didn't vaccinate their kids or who ate organic food were elitist hippies. After the birth of her son in 2010, she and her husband used their research backgrounds to learn more about ways in improve and maintain health in children and as a result chose to selectively vaccinate their son, moved to an organic whole foods diet and stopped using plastic in their kitchen. To learn more about some of the changes they made on their journey toward better health, check out her posts on health & beauty.

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  1. Good for you!!

    To the credit of all the medical officials, one thing you never hear them say is that unvaccinated people are the cause for rise in cases of Pertussis. They actually are getting that one right. And yet.....the public somehow still believes that choosing not to vaccinate for this disease puts everyone in danger.

    Thanks for your post.
    <3 J

    jwoolbright at gmail dot com

    1. Thanks, Janis!

      You're right - I've never heard an actual doctor say that unvaccinated people are causing the pertussis outbreak. Unfortunately, the news media isn't on the same page. I see news reports all the time about how unvaccinated people are causing pertussis to spread like wildfire and we all must get vaccinated or else!

    2. My Doctor told me that it was a bunch of mom's in Northern California that was the cause of these outbreaks. He became very aggressive when I refused to let my middle schooler get a booster.

  2. No, doctors don't blame lack of vaccination, but you wouldn't know it to read the MSM headlines. It is a shame that there is sooooo much information out there that flies in the face of what AAP, CDC, FDA and the MSM promote and people don't bother actually looking. The key here is to get people to stop accepting what is being spoon fed to them and actually look for themselves. Just because the MSM doesn't talk about studies showing dangers and lack of efficacy doesn't mean that they don't exist.

    1. I had a doctor that blamed unvaccinated children for the outbreaks of "old" diseases. And was very aggressive with me and tried to make me feel like a horrible mother for choosing not to vaccinate.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. This is such a well written, concise article. Thank you!

  5. I just started seeing see a new Dr, who is VERY pro-vac and pointed out she has 14 yrs of university....???? Good for her, was my thought. I am VERY anti-vac so we agreed to disagree after I told her there was absolutely nothing her years of schooling could ever do to change my mind and start vaccinating my healthy 3.5 yr old son. Her reply.....well, your just lucky he has the health he does because it's all thanks to those of us that have been vaccinated so you're welcome. True story!

    1. It might be time to fund a new doctor. I feel blessed to be able to do research on primary resources (actual medical journals, etc) and am rather convinced of where I stand on certain issues. I'm not sure I could trust and respect a doctor who is so fundamentally opposed to my approach to health care for my family.

    2. Run, don't walk out that doctor's door and find another that is on the same page as you..Her insults to you make me nauseated..

  6. And of course the answer to vaccine failure is......wait for it....more failing vaccines!

  7. I'm so glad you young moms are researchng & standing up for your families! Iknow it can be hard to go against expectations but stay strong! you will be glad of it! I didn't know any better & so my kids were vaccinated as recommended. Now in their 20's, they seem okay BUT I regret getting them vaccinated. :-( ..That being said: the field of immunology apparently has quite a few uncharted waters, BUT they are at least finding that the body mounts a very different response to an invader depending on how it gets in to the body. If it comes in via bloodstream, (like most injections) the response is very different compared to in the gut. It just makes more sense, IMHO, to work WITH the body and use the health practices that best complement our own bodies' preferences. Maybe that argument will get you some respect from those who wish to dissuade you.... some people will never be convinced, but they might at best be persuaded to let you alone & respect your decision. Stay strong!

  8. Don't you think a little protection is better than none? From CDCs website-Pertussis, or whooping cough, can be prevented with vaccines. Before pertussis vaccines became widely available in the 1940s, about 200,000 children got sick with it each year in the US and about 9,000 died as a result of the infection. Now we see about 10,000–40,000 cases reported each year and unfortunately about 10–20 deaths.

    1. If the vaccine was aluminum free (remember, aluminum is a known neuro toxin) as well as risk free, I think you'd be right. If the baboon study didn't also seem to indicate that vaccinated individuals WILL catch pertussis (and be contagious!) when exposed the question is whether or not they develop symptoms you might also have a point.

      As it stands, I think the vaccine is dangerous because it allows people to contract pertussis without symptoms, making them dangerous to others since they will not know they need to isolate themselves until the infection passes.

    2. My 2 year old is not vaccinated for anything because I do not agree with the toxic ingredients in them and I also know that our bodies have been given immune systems for a reason--to fight off infection naturally. And here is a great report of why the whooping cough vaccine is to blame for the rise in pertussis cases we are seeing. And yes, it is thanks to the vaccinated:

    3. Carissa, aluminum is a naturally occurring environmental metal. A baby is exposed to more aluminum in the first 6 months from breast feeding than all of the vaccines combined.

    4. Simwaves1, you are right that aluminum is present in breastmilk. There are two specific concerns with it, however, regarding vaccines:
      1) The body handles ingested aluminum differently than injected aluminum. You can safely handle a might higher amount of ingested aluminum than injected aluminum.
      2) The concern is how much injected aluminum your body is exposed to per DAY.

      The safe amount of injected aluminum for newborns has been well studied in regard to how much can be in their IV fluids before causing brain damage. That amount is 4mcg per Kg of bodyweight per day.
      (see here for more information on injected aluminum:

    5. 1) You are correct that the bioavailability of aluminum is different depending on the route of exposure. It is also widely different depending on the chemical form of the aluminum itself. First I would like to say, that an intramuscular injection is not the equivalent of an intravenous injection, so it doesn't have the same rate of influx into the system as those methods of administration referred to in the Dr. Sears website. Secondly, I find it odd that you wave off aluminum exposure through ingestion as inconsequential. Despite having low absorption through the gut, your baby is still getting more aluminum through ingestion and skin exposure than all of the vaccinations combined.

      2) The reason why aluminum toxicity is measured in units per day is because you need a relatively continuous influx of high levels of aluminum to reach toxic levels. The sources used in Dr. Sears commentary, despite being based on things like TPN labels (that's a different issue entirely), really expresses concern, as it should, in patients with impaired kidney function who have a constant influx of aluminum. Children, including infants, who have normal renal function, have the ability to quickly clear aluminum from their system. In fact, data shows that the levels required to reach neurotoxicity with normal renal function are actually on the level of 330 mg Al/kg/day for a consecutive 35 days!

  9. Good for you, Carissa. I have refused many of the new vaccines for my youngest. He recently took the chicken pox vaccine since he hasn't contracted it yet and he is 15. He now has a permanently stuffy nose. Is it related-who knows.

  10. Regarding your thoughts on "Cacooning," I'm surprised that you would make such a drastic decision based off of the source that you have supplied. Your decision is based on observing two baboons. I wonder what you mean when you say that you have a research background, because nobody would ever base recommendations off of a sample size of 2.

    We can say confidently that the asymptomatic carrier state is not that common. Pertussis is a reportable disease and hospitals test for pertussis all of the time. If everyone who was immunized is walking around colonized, then they would turn up positive for pertussis every time they came down with a cold and got tested. The idea of an outbreak would be foreign to pertussis because it would appear to be an epidemic.

    1. That study was significant enough for an FDA press release to proclaim it was highlighting one possible explanation for the recent uptick in cases. The county officials I spoke with (we are recovering from pertussis as I type ugh) didn't hesitate affirm that there is major concern about this "silent carrier" issue as well as the vaccine failing to last as little as 3 years. This is not some made up alternative woowoo thing. It is a legitimate concern.

      Being vaccinated and asymptomatic or even mildly symptomatic will rarely prompt testing in time to catch it with culture and the PCR is not recommended without accompanying symptoms due to false-positives. So, it is indeed VERY difficult to get definitive test results.

    2. I'm not saying that the study is inconsequential, just that it is insufficient evidence to make recommendations. No person with any familiarity with clinical studies would recommend that people should not vaccinate based on the observation from two subjects. There is not evidence for an asymptomatic carrier state in humans. The main concern is really from subclinical cases that are mildly symptomatic. Pertussis is spread by aerosol droplets expelled with coughing. Without a cough, an asymptomatic carrier spreading infection is highly unlikely.

      It's not that difficult to get definitive test results on someone who has pertussis if the testing is done properly. PCR, while it may have high rates of false positives in asymptomatic people (who would ever test someone for pertussis without symptoms?), is highly sensitive and specific for the diagnosis and is replacing culture as the main source of diagnosis in many places. Culturing in tandem with PCR increases the specificity of a definitive diagnosis.

      That being said, the complexities of testing are really irrelevant to my point. There were 1900 cases of pertussis in my state of California last year. I guarantee that the rate of testing was exponentially larger. That disparity in true diagnoses are not just from the inaccuracies of testing, so the asymptomatic carrier state can not be all that common if it truly exists.

    3. No where in the study does it say that there were only 2 subjects, in fact it refers to animals (plural) in all cohorts.

      As for the testing, you're not making sense to me nor addressing my point. It is indeed rare to get cultures done early or often enough in asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic people and in those people the PCR is not considered as reliable (especially if they have been vaccinated or have taken the oft prescribed prophylactic antibiotics)...Also, it is very rare for doctors to identify or consider pertussis even in the symptomatic as the tell-tale cough tends to occur at night and they need some convincing before they get the severity.

      "who would ever test someone for pertussis without symptoms?" pretty much exemplifies my point that asymptomatic carriers and even those mildly symptomatic so we have NO idea what the numbers are and what their contribution to the spread of the disease is. Again, the tests are not conclusive especially in those vaccinated and those who have taken the prescribed antibiotics. We simply do not know and per the health dept. Dr. scientists are very concerned about it and trying to develop a better vaccine.

      None of what I am posting is to say "don't vaccinate," rather, I am stating the current concerns and the likelihood that those accusing the unvaccinated of spreading pertussis may be spreading it themselves.

      The bottom line is that we are all entitled to make the medical decision that we feel is best for ourselves and our children and stop the blame game. It may go both ways.

    4. One more thing. To assert that the asymptomatic are unlikely to spread, defies the results of the study and also the well known fact that those who have natural pertussis can and do spread it prior to being symptomatic. That's per the CDC and every medical resource available. You can't just say that the asymptomatic don't spread it because that feels right to you. It is defied by evidence.

  11. Thank you! Great post. I have shared it with friends. We have gone from doing most vax with our oldest to no vax so far for our 6th. The more I know, the less I vax...

  12. Since when do doctors automatically test before making a diagnosis. Many doctors make diagnosis based on symptoms only.

    1. That's not typically the way that it works. Docs are trained to make a differential diagnosis, a list of all the possible diagnoses that can explain the presenting symptoms. The diagnoses that are prioritized to the top of the list are usually the most likely diagnosis as well as the serious diagnoses that should not be missed. Doctors use tests to help differentiate between diagnoses on the differential.

  13. My children and I are recovering from pertussis right now. It is awful, far worse than I imagined. That said, I've now spoken with the health department officials. I asked about the baboon study and it was affirmed to me that this vaccine is of great concern for the very reasons you've specified. My kids are completely unvaccinated and this is a tough thing to go through. I've had moments of doubt about not vaccinating (just to spare them the lost school time and the horrible discomfort) but per the health dept. doctor, we will at least have robust immunity for far longer than the vaccine would confer. And, you've hit the nail on the head with regard to disease transmission. It sure seems those vaccinated pose a way bigger threat to infants and immune compromised than those unvaccinated. Again, the doctor (works for the county) I spoke with clearly articulated that they are very concerned about the current vaccine. In addition, immunity can wane significantly in as little as 3 years. Bottom line, if someone wants to vaccinate to protect him/herself and children from having full blown pertussis (it is documented to be worse for the unvaccinated and I, who typically can fight off and cure everything naturally have been humbled by this one)...anyway, if people want to vaccinate to avoid pertussis symptoms, they should go for it but it is patently false that they are protecting others and as they may actually be doing harm, they have no right to malign those who choose not to vaccinate. Oh, last thing, testing is VERY complicated and getting a definitive result without symptoms is very difficult.

  14. I've read on various threads around the web that because the DTap is an acellular version now, it DOES NOT prevent you from getting pertussis AT ALL. Not just "carry" it, but actually get it. It just helps build immunity from the toxic bacteria that develops as a result of the pertussis, thus resulting in less severe symptoms. Perhaps THIS may be why we have this "outbreak"? (sarcasm there, this should not be called an outbreak anyway!!)


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