Despite most being fully vaccinated for whooping cough, the infection is still present in about a fifth of UK children visiting their doctor with a persistent cough.

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is one of the most common diseases that can be prevented by vaccine. Worldwide, nearly 300,000 children die from whooping cough each year.

There is also a significant socioeconomic burden attached to whooping cough. In the US, it has been linked with a mean medical cost of $242 and shown to cause school absences in 83% of adolescents for a mean of 5.5 days over a 2-year period.

Since 1992, the UK has had a primary vaccine coverage for whooping cough of more than 90%. However, following vaccination, immunity is reported to last for just 4-12 years. Immunity following infection lasts longer, about 7-20 years.

In October 2001, a preschool whooping cough booster vaccination was introduced. However, the introduction of this booster does not seem to have resulted in any significant changes to whooping cough hospital admissions.

The US, Australia, Canada, France, Germany and other countries have also introduced an adolescent whooping cough booster vaccination. The adolescent booster (Tdap) has only been partially effective in preventing whooping cough in the US, possibly due to limited vaccination coverage.

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Since 1992, the UK has had a primary vaccine coverage for whooping cough of more than 90%. However, vaccination immunity only lasts for 4-12 years.

To help assess whether a similar adolescent booster should be introduced in the UK, the new study examined the prevalence and severity of whooping cough in school-age children following the introduction of the preschool booster vaccination.

To do this, researchers at the University of Oxford recruited 279 children aged 5-15 who visited their doctor with a persistent cough lasting 2-8 weeks.

In total, 20% of the children were confirmed as having whooping cough, including 18% of the children who had been fully vaccinated.

The researchers also found that the risk of whooping cough was more than three times greater in children who received the preschool booster more than 7 years before visiting their doctor with persistent cough, compared with the children who were given the booster more recently.

Lead author Dr. Kay Wang told Medical News Today:

The results of our study will help inform ongoing discussions about whether an adolescent booster vaccination should be introduced in the UK. However, more evidence is still needed on the socioeconomic burden of whooping cough in this age group.

If current discussions conclude that an adolescent pertussis booster vaccination is likely to be cost-effective, administering this alongside the existing routine adolescent booster vaccinations (meningococcus C and tetanus, diphtheria, and inactivated polio) may be the most efficient way of ensuring high vaccination coverage.”

In 2013, we reported on research that found many US adults are not up to date with their whooping cough vaccinations. Only 20% of respondents to the University of Michigan National Poll on Children’s Health had received the whooping cough vaccine within the last decade, with 61% not knowing when they were last vaccinated.

As infants younger than 3 months old account for the majority of deaths from whooping cough, 72% of survey respondents also agreed that parents have the right to demand that people visiting a newborn in the hospital should first receive the whooping cough vaccine.

Also, a 2009 report found that the children of parents who prevent them from being vaccinated are 23 times more likely to get whooping cough than fully vaccinated children.