Vaccine Smarts - Decades of studies, trials, research available
By Dr. Richard Rupp and Bridget Hawkins, Ph.D.
C. Wayne Browne of Dickinson recently wrote a letter (“Show us studies on vaccinations,” The Daily News, Dec. 2) in response to our Nov. 17 column.
We stated that the number of cases of whooping cough (pertussis) in a local school would have been much greater if the student body had not been vaccinated.
Mr. Browne argued that pertussis had become a rarity before widespread vaccination and asks to be shown large double-blind randomized trials with an unvaccinated cohort group showing the safety and efficacy of the pertussis vaccine.
Mr. Browne raised several interesting points.
We concur that clean water, improved sanitation, home heating and better nutrition have improved human health dramatically — but that doesn’t mean that vaccination hasn’t played a major role as well.
Let’s look at the numbers.
Pertussis occurs in a cyclic pattern, peaking every three to five years. The number of reported cases in the United States reached an all-time high of 265,000 in 1934.
Widespread distribution of a pertussis vaccine began in 1940, but good vaccination rates weren’t reached until the mid-1950s.
Although the number of cases was dropping during the 1950s, whooping cough was still common, with 28,000-120,000 reported cases each year.
Contrast those numbers to the 1990s, with 2,700-7,800 annual cases.
Unfortunately, the number of cases in the United States has skyrocketed, with over 48,000 cases reported in 2012.
Water quality, sanitation and nutrition haven’t fallen, so other factors must be responsible.
Researchers are looking for the reasons but believe the rise is due, in part, to increased awareness and interest, much better tests and a population that has doubled since the 1950s.
In every country that has introduced the pertussis vaccine, the levels of disease fell quickly once enough of the population was vaccinated.
On the flip side, falling vaccination rates have resulted in increased rates of disease.
These observations have been made over and over in countries worldwide.
It’s logical to conclude from these patterns that vaccination plays an important role in disease prevention.
There are decades of population-based studies, clinical trials and laboratory-based research published in respected peer-reviewed journals.
The large majority provide evidence supporting vaccination as an important strategy to prevent pertussis.
Any interested person can obtain these studies from a medical library.
The pertussis vaccines that are licensed in the United States are safe.
In order to be licensed, each vaccine had to have large double-blinded studies demonstrating that the vaccine was safe and well tolerated.
Dr. Richard Rupp is a pediatrician and member of UTMB’s Sealy Center for Vaccine Development. Bridget Hawkins, Ph.D., is the assistant director of the Sealy Center for Vaccine Development. This column is supported by a UTMB President’s Cabinet Award to provide information about vaccines. Visit www.utmb.edu/scvd/vaccinesmarts for more information.