Whooping cough vaccine less effective because the bacteria is mutating, study suggests

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By Erika Edwards

The vaccine for whooping cough doesn’t work as well as it used to, and new research suggests it’s largely because the bacteria behind the disease has mutated.

Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed lab samples from patients with whooping cough between 2000 and 2013 and found Bordetella pertussis, which causes whooping cough, has gone through genetic changes over time.

That means the current vaccine is not a perfect match to the bacteria. Researchers hope the new data published Wednesday in the journal “Emerging Infectious Diseases” will help change that.

“The genomic data we provide will aid open research toward improved vaccine development and disease control strategies,” the CDC authors wrote in their report.

Infectious disease experts agree.

“The pertussis vaccine is not optimal,” said Dr. William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

“We’re making the best use of the vaccine, while we’re frantically doing research to make a better one,” said Schaffner. But a new vaccine for whooping cough is nowhere near ready, he said.

How contagious is whooping cough?

Anyone can get whooping cough, but newborns are most vulnerable.

Babies and children currently receive a vaccine called DTaP. It’s a shot that helps protect against three diseases: pertussis, diphtheria and tetanus. Studies have shown the vaccine is safe and works very well against diphtheria and tetanus, protecting nearly everyone who gets it for a decade.