FDA Continues to Study Mumps, Whooping Cough to Increase Vaccine Effectiveness
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FDA Continues to Study Mumps, Whooping Cough to Increase Vaccine Effectiveness

March 9, 2016

Despite the success of many of our oldest vaccines, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to study mumps and whooping cough in order to better the vaccines against these diseases.

Both mumps and whooping cough have recently seen an increase in outbreaks, even among vaccinated populations. By studying the germs that cause these illnesses, researchers hope to make vaccines more effective.

While there has been quite some controversy surrounding vaccines lately, the FDA and other medical professionals continue to assert that the vaccines for diseases like mumps and whopping cough have long been considered safe.

Mumps, a virus that causes a swollen jaw, puffy cheeks and headaches, isn't as common as it once was prior to a vaccine being available, but sporadic outbreaks still pop up in places where young adults live in close quarters, like college campuses.

Many children receive two doses of the mumps vaccine, often given as a combination with measles and rubella, known as the MMR vaccine. Researchers, however, are finding that even in populations of largely vaccinated young adults, mumps can still be transmitted. By the time vaccinated children reach college, the anti-mumps virus antibodies have declined substantially.

Along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), FDA researcher Steven Rubin and his team studied how college students responded to a third dose of the vaccine. Antibodies did improve, but sank after about a year.

"This suggests that an additional dose of vaccine is unlikely to provide a long-term solution," Rubin said in a written statement. "We are now looking into other ways of improving the vaccine, such as optimizing the structure of the vaccine virus to trigger the production of longer-lasting, more robust antibodies."

Mumps is rarely deadly, but whooping cough can be tragic for infants who are often unvaccinated before six weeks of age. Caused by a bacteria, whooping cough – or pertussis – has seen a steady comeback in the past 20 years.

Whooping cough is very contagious and can cause violent and rapid coughing that continues until the air is gone from the lungs and a person inhales with a loud whooping sound.

"Pertussis is most severe and can be extremely dangerous in young infants, especially those who are too young to have completed the infant vaccination series against pertussis," FDA researcher Tod Merkel said in a written statement. "Whooping cough can cause serious and sometimes life-threatening complications, permanent disability, and even death, especially in infants and young children."

The whooping cough vaccine is also part of a combination including tetanus and diphtheria (DTaP). Merkel's finding suggest that people who are immunized with acellular vaccines, like DTaP may be asymptomatic, which means they are infected, but don't show any symptoms. These infected people can unknowingly infect others who aren't vaccinated, like babies and those who had to delay vaccination due to other medical issues.

Even though both vaccines may have minor flaws, researchers say that getting vaccinated is better than not. No vaccine is 100 percent effective, but it can help ease symptoms. Mumps, for example, will be milder and last a shorter time compared to those who are not vaccinated. The same goes for whooping cough.

But, due to the possibility of being an unknown carrier, is it is recommended that all adults between ages 19 and 64 get a one-time whooping cough booster. This is especially important for adults that will have close contact with infants younger than 12 months. Pregnant women are often given the booster during their third trimester so that the antibodies are passed onto the baby.