About 20 years ago, the United States and a few other countries started using a different pertussis vaccine than had been used previously. The change was in response to public fear about some very rare neurological disorders that may or may not have had a relationship to that older vaccine (it couldn't ever be proven one way or the other).
The vaccine we use today was created to get around any possible mechanism for those disorders and, along the way, ended up having lower rates of the less-troubling (and far, far more common) sort of side effects, as well. Think short-term redness, swelling, or pain at the site of injection.
The downside, reports Maryn McKenna, is that this new vaccine might not be as effective as the old one. In fact, scientists at the Centers for Disease Control, Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in San Rafael, Calif., and Australia's University of Queensland’s Children’s Medical Research Unit, are raising the possibility that a less effective vaccine could be part of why we're now seeing a big increase in pertussis outbreaks.
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In the most recent research, a letter published Tuesday night in JAMA, researchers in Queensland, Australia examined the incidence of whooping cough in children who were born in 1998, the year in which that province began phasing out whole-cell pertussis vaccine (known as there as DTwP) in favor of less-reactive acellular vaccine (known as DTaP). Children who were born in that year and received a complete series of infant pertussis shots (at 2, 4 and 6 months) might have received all-whole cell, all-acellular, or a mix — and because of the excellent record-keeping of the state-based healthcare system, researchers were able to confirm which children received which shots.
In the wake of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami last March, I started seeing a lot of headlines like this:
In those stories, environmentalists and climate science deniers went head-to-head, with one side pointing out yet another unintended consequence of fossil fuel consumption, and the other side pointing and laughing at what it saw as patently ridiculous fear-mongering. Missing: The nuance. And you know how much I love the nuance.
This is a story that contains a whole lot of yesbut. Yes, it really does make sense that climate change could trigger earthquakes. But it's very, very unlikely that that effect is responsible for any of the monster quakes we've experienced recently. And behind that apparent contradiction lies some really, really interesting science.