Dr. Anthony Komaroff

Dr. Anthony Komaroff

Booster shot gives wide protection

By Dr. Anthony Komaroff
Medical Columnist

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Dear Dr. Komaroff: My son says if I get a booster shot for pertussis, it will help protect his kids from getting whooping cough. That seems far-fetched to me.

Dear Reader: It’s not. Even if you were immunized against pertussis (the bacteria that cause whooping cough) as a child, you may need a booster shot. Why? Because pertussis is highly contagious, and without a booster shot you are at some risk for getting it. If you do get it, you could pass it on to your grandchildren.

Whooping cough got its name because the bacterial infection causes violent coughing. The coughing makes it hard to breathe and produces a deep “whooping” sound. Pertussis can occur at any age. If infants and youngsters get it, they are particularly at risk to become seriously ill.

Unfortunately, many people resist getting vaccines, and the protective effects of the pertussis vaccine tend to decline over time. As a result, the number of pertussis cases in the United States has increased in recent years. There were about 17,000 reported cases in 2009; in 2014, there were nearly 33,000 cases.

To keep kids healthy, adults need to be immunized, too. That’s because of something called “herd immunity.” When enough people are immunized against a disease, it becomes uncommon – simply because the immunized people can’t catch it, and therefore can’t spread it.