This is Part 3 in my vaccine series discussing how we made our decision on which vaccines we give our children. You may also want to check out the other two posts in this series: Part 1: Risks, Benefits, Responsibility and Part 2: Hepatitis B and Hib Vaccines.
So, to be perfectly transparent- this was the vaccine I most deeply considered. I was scared of my child getting whooping cough and diphtheria sounded horrible, too. Drug manufacturer propaganda tapped into my mama fears big time. Remember that commercial with the grandmother dressed up as a wolf disguised with killer whooping cough? I thought I was putting my baby at THAT kind of risk.
Nowadays everyone, even pregnant women are recommended for TDaP boosters (the adult version of DTaP) every ten years to help out with the “whooping cough problem”.
Today we are going to look into what’s really going on with pertussis and discuss the details of the other diseases that the DTaP is recommended for: diphtheria and tetanus.
Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis
Diphtheria (D) is a serious throat infection that is caused by bacteria. Incubation period is 2-5 days. The toxin produced by the bacteria causes irritation to the throat and upper lungs causing severe coughing and breathing difficulty. It is transmitted through air and saliva.
Diphtheria was a significant cause of death in the pre-sanitation era. It was typically seen at epidemic levels in lower socioeconomic populations. You can see from the purple line in the below graph that in 1900, death from diphtheria was 40 per every 100,000 people in the U.S, the vast majority of these cases were infants. By 1945, death from diphtheria had dropped to less than 2 per 100,000. This is BEFORE the vaccine was in widespread use in the late 1940’s.
- sore throat with swelling that can be severe
- swollen glands
- weakness and fatigue
Emergency Care and Treatment:
Diphtheria is extremely rare in the U.S. today, but if it were to be something I suspected our children had I would seek immediate medical care. Most people in the U.S. who develop diphtheria have been traveling overseas and contract it, so make sure to tell your doctor if you suspect possible diphtheria infection after international travel. The diphtheria antitoxin is still used to treat diphtheria overseas. The antitoxin is also available in the U.S. but is not certified by the FDA. The CDC has released it and allowed it for dispersion as an “investigational new drug.”
Just like with any disease, the severity of the illness depends on the health of the individual- so prevention through diet, supplementation, and nourishing lifestyle habits (good sleep, outside time, sunshine, etc.) are important.
Diphtheria death rates were lowered to less than 2 per 100,000 even before the vaccine and we rarely see a case in the U.S. today. This was not a disease I am concerned about and we did not choose to give this vaccine. In times where diphtheria was epidemic it was typically seen in overcrowded, poor living conditions without available nutrition, clean water and indoor plumbing.
If my children were to travel overseas to areas still prone to diphtheria, we would research incidence and available emergency medical care in the area before deciding on vaccination.
Tetanus (T) is a bacterial infection contracted through deep puncture wounds that are infected with tetanus bacteria from contaminated soil, needles, or fecal matter. In developing countries, tetanus can also be contracted by dirty tools used to cut umbilical cords or used in abortions. Incubation period can be from 3 – 21 days. Once a person is infected, the tetanus toxin produced causes temporary paralysis that can affect the entire body and usually starts in the jaw.
Before the vaccine, the U.S reported around 1,300 cases of tetanus per year. Now we see about 50-100.
In the below graph (which is government data from England and Wales), you can see the downward trend in death from tetanus before widespread vaccine use began in the late 1940’s.
- jerking generalized spasms
- locking up of the jaw
- difficulty swalowing
- possible fever and sweats
Emergency Care and Treatment:
Tetanus is an infection that requires emergency care and tetanus immune globulin is recommended as soon as possible. Wounds should also be cleaned immediately with hydrogen peroxide and any debris removed.
Since my daughter was an immobile baby and she wouldn’t be running around barefoot where there were farm animals and unknown risks of nails in the soil, I didn’t feel tetanus was an incredible risk in her first year and she did not receive the tetanus vaccine.
If I’m honest, 1,300 cases of tetanus each year (pre-vaccine stats) doesn’t seem endemic to me. And this was from an era where farms and farm incident of tetanus were more common and the world was at war.
Our family will continue to take precaution in always wearing shoes when in areas that pose a risk. With modern wound and emergency care, even unvaccinated adults who receive deep puncture wound tetanus infections rarely have complications.
We have hydrogen peroxide at home for immediate cleaning and a great urgent care nearby if we needed a professional opinion. If my children had an injury from a nail or an animal bite I would definitely go in for another opinion (and probably be prepared for a vaccine lecture.)
If needed, we would consider the tetanus immune globulin (especially if the injury occurred near animal feces and was a deep wound.) But in general, I really hope my girls wouldn’t be playing barefoot in a field with possible sharp metal with nearby animal feces- yuck.
Pertussis (Whooping Cough)
Pertussis (aP), or “whooping cough” is an infectious disease caused by the Bordetella pertussis bacterium. Over 200,000 cases were reported annually with as much as 9,000 deaths each year before the earlier DTP vaccine became widely used in the 1940’s.
There is no permanent immunity to pertussis although additional infections are typically less serious. Pertussis is most severe in children under two months. The incubation period for the illness is 7-10 days. (CDC)
The “whooping cough” is due to mucous forming deep in the bronchial tubes. The pertussis bacteria toxin actually “eats” away at the fine cilia hairs that help move the mucous up and out of the bronchial tubes and keep mucous from getting into the lungs. The number one cause of death with pertussis is complications with bacterial pneumonia- when mucous gets into the lungs, typically of young babies whose bronchial passages are too small and their cough reflexes are weak.
There are three stages of pertussis infection:
- Stage 1: (1-2 weeks) Runny nose, sneezing, low-grade fever, and mild occasional cough- similar to the common cold. Many do not have a fever at all.
- Stage 2: Low-grade fever and increased severity of cough. Rapid bursts of severe cough, especially at night. It is not uncommon for breathing to be difficult or for patient to turn red and then blue from lack of oxygen. Vomiting can occur due to coughing. It is not uncommon for children to have a coughing fit and then to appear totally normal. This stage lasts 2-3 weeks but can last longer.
- Stage 3: The recovery stage. Cough will gradually decrease but it is not unusual to have sporadic cough for several months.
Treatment and Emergency Care:
Whooping cough is typically a disease that needs to run its course for full recovery, although antibiotics are usually recommended to make the infected person less contagious. In severe cases in infants, hospitalization is needed especially if disease progresses to pneumonia.
As a parent, it is important to remember that pertussis presents with low to no fever. If your child has a moderate to high fever, it is not pertussis. Croup cough is also a common childhood illness that can be confused for whooping cough but whooping cough will typically be a DRY cough.
I have spoken to other moms about their experience with a child having whooping cough or read testimonies for many years now. They have all been extremely relieving and has boosted my confidence of my ability to care for a child with whooping cough. Many of them have used the Vitamin C protocol that Dr. Suzanne Humphries recommends for whooping cough and it seems to significantly reduce the severity and length of the illness. Having ascorbic acid or liposomal Vitamin C on hand at home is an important part of choosing not to vaccinate for whooping cough. Also, become familiar with the Vitamin C protocol and be prepared to start Vitamin C at first signs of pertussis.
Pertussis Incidence vs. Mortality
The charts below are fascinating. I’ve included the mortality statistics from three “westernized” countries who all experienced a revolution in sanitation, nutrition, and medical care availability all about the same time, between 1880 and 1930. The pertussis vaccine was not used in these countries until the 1940’s and into the early 1950’s.
Pertussis is naturally cyclical in nature, with peaks in disease every 3-5 years which you can see clearly in the charts below.
Death rates are per 100,000 people, the equivalent of a very large college football stadium.
U.S Mortality Statistics- Pertussis: 1900-1970
You can see on this chart using data from the U.S Vital Statistics Record and the Historical Statistics of the U.S. that pertussis deaths were on the significant decline before the vaccine was introduced.
We see the same similar pattern in England with a significantly more obvious decline in whooping cough death before the vaccine was in widespread use.
And again in Australia. Significant improvement in whooping cough survival before the vaccine was introduced. Australia paints an especially interesting picture since mass vaccination didn’t start until even later and yet they showed the same declining pertussis rates as Great Britain and the U.S.
So the DEATH rates are better, but what about the INCIDENT rates?
My skeptic brain wouldn’t let this one alone. I saw that YES, many anti-vaccine activists provide these mortality graphs as part of their argument, and for good reason. They speak volumes about how improved community sanitation, nutrition, and emergency care made a positive impact on overall survival from whooping cough BEFORE the vaccine.
But the pertussis INCIDENCE graphs like the one above told a very clear story. The original DTP vaccine DID INDEED have an impact on the INCIDENCE of whooping cough, lowering it drastically within twenty years (even though the side effects from the DTP were of such concern a replacement vaccine was created.)
But the DEATH rate did not see the dramatic decline because it had already declined. You can see pertussis as a cause of death had already begun to decline from 1900-1945 (before the vaccine era- see the green line in the first graph further up.) You can see this much more clearly by percentages of deaths by year in the chart on the left side of this page under the column “death rate.”
I did not see the above graphs until recently, but they confirmed what I felt in my gut back in 2008 when I was researching the pertussis vaccine for my first daughter. Whooping cough, although very scary and no fun to go through with your child, is not the deadly monster it was in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
I am not underplaying the severity of the disease and need for action by any means, but I think it is important to know that we have options for treatment if our children were to contract it as well as availability for prevention and optimal nutrition.
Today, whooping cough is on the rise, even in the fully vaccinated. In 2012, the U.S. saw the most cases since the 1950’s at more than 48,000. The confusing part is that the vast majority of these cases were fully vaccinated!
Since the U.S. switched over from the more reaction-prone DTP vaccine (which many of us receiving in the 1980’s and before) to the less controversial but less effective DTaP vaccine in 1997, we have seen a RISE in whooping cough. The DTaP wanes dramatically– up to 34% by 48 months! This is why boosters are needed in order for the vaccine to maintain effectiveness and why they are also encouraged for the entire adult population every ten years. In a 2006 study, scientists concluded that 86% of whooping cough cases that year were in fully vaccinated individuals!
In 2014, scientists from the USDA tried to recreate and discover what could be going on with the increasing incidence of whooping cough. The study discovered that baboons given the acellular pertussis vaccine (DTaP) actually contract pertussis after vaccination and store the bacteria in their nostrils (although they were virtually symptomless.) These baboons would then spread pertussis to the unvaccinated populations of baboons.
The study also showed that the unvaccinated population of baboons- although they experienced more obvious pertussis symptoms, acquired the strongest and most long lasting immunity to pertussis. Most importantly, the unvaccinated population was NOT the reason for increased pertussis occurrence. The authors concluded that there was a great need for a more effective pertussis vaccine.
And although this is unscientific and simply observational, just before our daughter was born and I was going out on maternity leave- TWO of my elementary aged students came down with whooping cough in my class. I legally had to be notified since I was pregnant. Both students had been fully vaccinated and it was suggested that I get the TDaP booster vaccine since I was so close to delivery.
I imagine you could guess my response to that! I never got the booster vaccine, never got whooping cough and neither did my baby.
To me, choosing the DTaP vaccine for my daughter felt like a cheap and risky band-aid that we would have to keep on applying for it to stick.
After quite a bit of back and forth, my husband and I decided to forgo the pertussis vaccine.
Whooping Cough is serious but I felt educated enough about the symptoms and emergency care to deal with a possible case if it occurred.
Being knowledgeable of how to use the Vitamin C protocol was our chosen defense against the possibility of whooping cough, along with providing immune support early on with isolation from sick people and crowded places for her first 2-3 months of life (this was admittedly not adhered to as much as we would have liked- and especially with our additional children but we committed to breastfeeding and close maternal contact and did our best!)
We have a strong faith in the nourished, unaltered human immune system and were educated on how to care for her if we we thought she had pertussis. We knew the symptoms and had liposomal Vitamin C on hand and instructions for Dr. Suzanne Humphries’ Vitamin C whooping cough protocol for immediate care.
DTaP and TDaP Vaccine Information:
There are multiple options for this vaccine. If you want to look more into all of the various ingredients, here are links for your research.
- Sanofi Pasteur: Diphtheria & Tetanus or DT) Vaccine Package Insert
- Infanrix – (Diphtheria, Tetanus & Pertussis or DTaP) Vaccine Package Insert
- DAPTACEL – (DTaP) Vaccine Package Insert
- Pediarix – (DTaP, Hepatitis B & Polio) Vaccine Package Insert
- KINRIX – (DTaP & Polio) Vaccine Package Insert
- Pentacel – (DTaP, Polio & Haemophilus Influenzae b or HIB) Vaccine Package Insert
There were 5,857 adverse reactions reported to VAERS in 2016 from the DTaP, DT, and TDaP and combo vaccines with 44 resulting in death after the DTaP and D,T, or P combo vaccines and 5 deaths after TD and TDaP vaccines.
VAERS reports have the potential to be a great tool for transparency in vaccine research, but unfortunately vaccine adverse reaction data is significantly underreported. Many vaccine injuries are cumulative and have slow or gradual onset and go unnoticed until it is serious later on. Also, VAERS reports are volunteer-based so it relies on doctors spending their time filling out vaccine injury reports or parents doing it themselves (even though many parents don’t even know it is there to use). Because of this, there is increasing popular belief that vaccine injuries are most likely 10 to 100 times higher than what is actually reported in VAERS.
Regarding TDaP during pregnancy, this is directly quoted from the CDC:
“No study has assessed the safety of repeated doses of Tdap in pregnant women. CDC will monitor and assess the safety of Tdap use during pregnancy.”
What are your thoughts about the DTaP vaccine? Would love to chat with you below!
Next up: The Polio vaccine…
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