Old pertussis vaccine could help combat food allergy

Matt Woodley

21/01/2020 3:53:13 PM

Research has linked the phasing out of whole-cell whooping cough vaccines with a spike in childhood food allergies.

Child receiving vaccination
Researchers found that children who had received one or more doses of whole-cell vaccine in the late 1990s were 23% less likely to be diagnosed with a food allergy.

According to a new Australian study, using two different types of the whooping cough vaccine could have the added benefit of boosting protection against life-threatening allergies to foods like eggs, milk, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, fish and shellfish.
‘Acellular’ whooping cough vaccines are currently used in Australia, but vaccine researcher Professor Tom Snelling from the Wesfarmers Centre of Vaccines and Infectious Diseases said children could benefit from a return to older ‘whole-cell’ vaccines that were replaced in the late 1990s.
‘Since use of the whole-cell vaccine was phased out, researchers noticed an increase in both the number of cases of food allergies and their severity,’ Professor Snelling said.
‘Researchers reviewed the cases of 500 children diagnosed with food allergy by specialist allergists over the past 20 years, discovering that children who had received one or more doses of whole-cell vaccine in the late 1990s were 23% less likely to be diagnosed with a food allergy than those who didn’t.’
Professor Snelling pointed out that allergic and other serious reactions caused by vaccines are extremely rare, which supports the theory that some vaccines could reduce the risk of serious allergies.
‘There are currently 250,000 young Australians living with severe food allergy, and up to three in every 10 babies born each year will develop either a food-related allergy or eczema,’ he said.
‘These allergies occur when the immune system reacts to everyday substances such as different types of food. We believe that by harmlessly mimicking infections, some vaccines such as the whole-cell whooping cough vaccine have the potential to help steer the immune system away from developing allergic reactions.
‘This study adds evidence that a single initial dose of the whole-cell vaccine might have the additional benefit of partially protecting young babies against developing life-threatening food allergies.’
A $3.9 million National Health and Medical Research Council grant will be used to further investigate the findings and conduct a controlled study involving 3000 Australian babies throughout 2020.
‘Babies participating in the study will be randomly assigned to receive either one dose of whole-cell whooping cough vaccine followed by two doses of acellular vaccine, or to just have the usual schedule of three doses of the acellular whooping cough vaccine,’ Professor Snelling said.
‘Participants will be followed until they are 12 months old to confirm whether the whole-cell vaccine truly helps to protect against food allergies in infancy and, if successful, a new vaccine schedule could form part of an effective strategy to combat the rise in food allergies.’
However, even if the vaccines are found to protect against food allergies a new whooping cough vaccine may soon be needed, with researchers warning the virus is evolving into a potential superbug.
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