MONDAY, Nov. 3 (HealthDay News) -- Giving infants a routine pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine two weeks earlier than normal could prevent at least 1,236 cases of pertussis, 898 hospitalizations and seven deaths each year in the United States, a new study finds.
Researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine and Vanderbilt University reported their findings in the November issue of the journal Pediatrics.
"Rates of pertussis, which can be life-threatening to infants, are increasing. Pertussis vaccine has been highly effective in defending children against the disease, and we find that modest adjustments in the timing of vaccine administration may offer enhanced protection to very young infants who are especially susceptible to severe disease," co-lead author Dr. Timothy R. Peters, assistant professor of pediatrics at Brenner Children's Hospital (part of Wake Forest), said in a university news release.
In 2003, 13 children in the United States died from pertussis.
Current recommendations suggest five doses of the vaccine at two, four and six months of age, with booster shots at 15 months to 18 months and four years to six years. The recommendations also allow for administration of the first dose at six weeks of age, with the second and third doses at 3.5 months and 5.5 months.
In this study, the researchers analyzed existing national data to determine the benefit of giving the first vaccine dose at six weeks instead of two months.
"While two weeks may seem negligible, this change would reduce the time that a two-month-old infant is completely without pertussis vaccine protection by 25 percent. Because pertussis so greatly threatens very young infants, the benefit of earlier vaccination may result in a significant decrease in severe pertussis disease nationally, and may be an especially useful approach during outbreaks of pertussis," Peters said.
Along with the conclusion that giving the first dose earlier could prevent illness and death, the researchers determined that giving the second and third doses two weeks earlier could prevent an additional 923 cases, 520 hospitalizations and two deaths a year.
The Nemours Foundation has more about pertussis.
SOURCE: Wake Forest University, news release, Nov. 3, 2008