In October 2001, the government added a new ‘safer’ vaccine to its booster schedule, with no real safety testing. But new evidence shows that whooping cough is mutating and may not respond.
Last October, with a minimum of fanfare, the British government made a small adjustment to its vaccination schedule. As of 5 November 2001, the Department of Health (DoH) modified its booster schedule to include another dose of the whooping cough vaccine.
Children who have already had the standard three doses of the whooping cough vaccine at two, three and four months of age are now to receive a preschool booster when they are three and five, at the same time as the diphtheria and tetanus booster. The government has even been considering this as a ‘one-stop’ shot with the measles-mumps-rubella triple booster, so that preschoolers could receive at least six vaccines all on the same day.
Concealed behind this seemingly innocuous addition to the preschool vaccine schedule lies some enormous concerns on the part of officialdom, not least of which is that the whooping cough jab may have spawned a new disease immune to vaccination.
The DoH readily admits that the new booster drive has been initiated because the ordinary vaccine is failing to prevent cases of whooping cough among the very young. According to a DoH press release on 15 October, despite a 95 per cent vaccination take-up rate, pertussis is still a source of considerable illness and death among babies. The DoH maintains that babies are catching whooping cough from either their older siblings or parents.
The evidence suggests that the DoH figures have been highly inflated to justify the new vaccine. According to the Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS) - the UK’s chief body for monitoring and formulating policy on infectious disease - in 1999, the last year that full figures are available, there were 1139 notifications of whooping cough in England and Wales, and two deaths. In 1980, there were 21,131 cases of disease and six deaths.
In 2000, there were only 712 reported cases of the disease. These two years represent the lowest notification on record for two years running, according to the PHLS.
Nevertheless, the fatality ratio (number of deaths per 100 notifications of the disease) is going up. In 1980, the fatality ratio was 0.03. In 1998, this swelled to 0.25 (or eight times) and, in 1999, it was 0.18, or six times what it was in 1980.
Despite nearly universal vaccination coverage in very young infants, the proportion of disease is increasing among very young babies. The PHLS analysed the numbers for the years 1990-97 and found that, although the total number of cases fell during this period, the number of pertussis cases in children under three months didn’t. Children in this age group accounted for 48 per cent of cases in 1999-2000. In the first quarter of 2001, of 47 confirmed cases, 62 per cent were under three months old (CDR Weekly, 21 June 2001).
Although the PHLS maintains that most babies getting whooping cough are too young to be vaccinated, the fact is that babies get their first shots at two months. A proportion of the under-one-year-olds who get whooping cough would have had at least one of their three doses of DPT. What is more likely is that the vaccine isn’t working, even among children who have just received their shots.
With the preschool booster, the government may be attempting to make a preemptive strike on a disease that is reemerging in many places around the globe.