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Whooping cough vaccines should be given to all adults, gov't panel says

Brooke Booth is vaccinated against whooping cough (pertussis)
A woman is vaccinated against whooping cough (pertussis), at a pharmacy in Pasadena, California on September 17, 2010. Getty/Robyn Beck

(CBS/AP) All U.S. adults should get the whooping cough vaccine, a federal advisory panel voted Wednesday.

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The panel wants to expand its recommendation to include all those age 65 and older who haven't gotten a whooping cough shot as an adult.

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a highly contagious bacterial disease that in rare cases can be fatal. It leads to severe coughing that causes children to make a distinctive whooping sound as they gasp for breath.

Children have been vaccinated against whooping cough since the 1940s, but a vaccine for adolescents and adults was not licensed until 2005. Since then, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has gradually added groups of adults to its recommendation. Wednesday's recommendation means now all adults should get at least one dose.

"They've been moving up to this in baby steps," said Dr. William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University vaccines expert.

Recommendations from the panel are usually adopted by the government, which sends the guidance out to doctors.

In 2010, a whooping cough epidemic in California contributed to the push to vaccinate more adults. That epidemic infected 9,000 people and killed ten babies, HealthPop reported.

Only about 8 percent of adults under 65 have been vaccinated, but about 70 percent of adolescents have. There's little data on how many elderly people have gotten the vaccine. Health officials believe whooping cough is underreported in older adults, perhaps because in older people the illness can be hard to distinguish from other coughing ailments.

A goal of the recommendation is to prevent teens and adults from spreading the disease to infants, although there's not good evidence this "herd immunity" approach has worked so far. Vaccination for children is included in a series of shots, beginning at 2 months.

The adult vaccine combines protection against tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough. One version of the vaccine, made by GlaxoSmithKline, was licensed for use in the elderly last year. The committee said another version, made by Sanofi Pasteur, can also be given. Both cost about $35 a dose.

The shot is as safe as a regular tetanus booster. Estimates range widely for how effective the vaccine is at preventing whooping cough in older adults, or how much its protection wanes years afterward.

Nearly 28,000 cases of whooping cough occurred in 2010, resulting in 27 deaths, the last time the CDC reported data. Twenty-five of those deaths were in children younger than 1 year old.

The CDC has more on whooping cough.

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