Tag: baboons

Can Vaccinated Children Be Asymptomatic Carriers of Pertussis?

Why do anti-vaccine folks like to talk about baboons so much?

“Did you know that a study showed that baboons injected with whooping cough vaccine became infected with whooping cough anyway – and silently spread the disease to other baboons for 35 days?”

Anti-vaccine Meme

Is it because baboons are used in the study of vaccines?

That’s part of it, at least when they can find a study where they can cherry pick the results to suit their needs.

The Baboon Study

Like most anti-vaccine talking points, this one about baboons, has some truth to it.

An adult male baboon.
An adult male baboon. Photo by Elizabeth Miller

There was a baboon study with the pertussis vaccine and it found that previously vaccinated baboons could develop asymptomatic carriage of the pertussis bacteria after they were intentionally infected.

Here is where it is important to note that an infection is different than a disease.

The example that many people are familiar with is tuberculosis. It is common to have a TB infection without any signs or symptoms and to not feel sick. The only reason we know that they have TB is because they had a positive TB test.

Unfortunately, about 5 to 10% of these people with TB infections can eventually develop TB disease, with coughing, weight loss, night sweats, fever, and chest pain, etc.

It is kind of the same with the baboons in the study. Twenty-four hours after two previously vaccinated baboons were inoculated with pertussis bacteria in the back of their nose and trachea, an unvaccinated baboon was put in each of their cages.

The vaccinated baboons continued to have pertussis bacteria in their noses, which the researchers had put there, for up to 35 days. And they were able to eventually pass the pertussis bacteria to the unvaccinated baboons in their cages. Vaccinated baboons also became infected or colonized after they were put in a cage with an intentionally infected unvaccinated baboon.

“…animals did not cough and showed no reduction of activity, loss of appetite, or other outward signs of disease.”

Warfel et al on Acellular pertussis vaccines protect against disease but fail to prevent infection and transmission in a nonhuman primate model

The vaccinated baboons were infected, but they never did develop symptoms of pertussis.

What Does The Baboon Study Mean?

One thing that is for sure – the baboon study found that the pertussis vaccines work. Only unvaccinated baboons got sick with pertussis.

But does this study explain our current outbreaks of pertussis?

Are vaccinated people becoming colonized and then getting others sick?

I guess it is possible, but we are not baboons in a cage with other baboons. How would we spread a respiratory disease, even if we did become colonized with the bacteria, if we don’t have symptoms?

It may explain part of our outbreaks though.

If vaccinated people do commonly become colonized with pertussis bacteria, then they might very well test positive for pertussis even though they don’t have symptomatic pertussis disease. So when they develop a cold or bronchitis and are found to have a positive pertussis test, then couldn’t that test just indicate that they have a pertussis infection and not disease, even though something else is actually causing their symptoms?

That’s what we think happens with strep carriers, right?

That’s kind of what the baboon study found. All of the baboons tested positive, but only the unvaccinated baboons had symptomatic pertussis disease.

“Baboons vaccinated with wP vaccines exhibit a level of protection that is intermediate between convalescent animals and aP-vaccinated animals. They exhibit no outwards signs of disease and are initially colonized to the same high level as aP-vaccinated animals but clear the infection more rapidly.”

Pinto et al on Pertussis disease and transmission and host responses: insights from the baboon model of pertussis.

It is interesting to note that the baboon study also found that baboons who had received whole cell pertussis vaccines also became carriers. They just didn’t stay carriers for as long as the baboons who got the newer acellular pertussis vaccine. But since they were still carriers, if asymptomatic transmission is such a big problem, wouldn’t it have been a big problem back in the day when everyone got whole cell pertussis vaccines?

The Debate Over Asymptomatic Carriage

Most vaccines prevent the spread of disease.

Do the pertussis vaccines?

Most folks still think so.

“The baboon model pioneered by Warfel et al. is without question a game-changer, shedding light on the impact of vaccination on disease and infection. However, the view it affords is clearer with respect to immunity and pathology than with respect to transmission. We point out that the extrapolation of the possibility of transmission from vaccinated baboons in the laboratory to the probability of transmission from vaccinated humans in the population is unwarranted. More work is needed to elucidate the relative transmissibility of infections in vaccinated vs. unvaccinated hosts. The evidence adduced above suggests, however, that vaccination with aP must have a strong effect on transmission as well as disease.”

Matthieu Domenech de Cellès et al on Epidemiological evidence for herd immunity induced by acellular pertussis vaccines

Even the author of the baboon study has said that “We agree that these data should not be directly extrapolated to pertussis transmission in humans. Although baboons are >96% genetically similar to humans, there are likely differences in how the species respond to vaccination and infection. We also agree that aP-vaccinated infected people are likely less efficient at transmitting pertussis compared with unvaccinated infected people, although it is not clear to what extent.”

Others think that asymptomatic carriage of pertussis might behind a lot of our recent outbreaks. Or at least what helps them grow so large.

Still, it is important to remember that unvaccinated folks do play a role in these outbreaks too. In a pertussis outbreak at a Florida preschool, in which most kids were vaccinated, the outbreak was started by a vaccine-exempt toddler.

And we have seen this in many other areas and it has been confirmed by many studies. Whatever else is contributing to pertussis outbreaks, like waning immunity, they are also associated with vaccine refusal.

“Counties with higher exemption rates had higher rates of reported pertussis among exempted and vaccinated children when compared with the low-exemption counties.”

Imdad et al. on Religious exemptions for immunization and risk of pertussis in New York State, 2000-2011.

But what if the DTaP and Tdap vaccines do cause folks to be asymptomatic carriers?

Even if that is true, understand that these vaccines don’t actually infect you, making you a carrier. They just might not prevent you from becoming a carrier if you are exposed to someone else with pertussis. While that might be a good reason to develop a new and better pertussis vaccine, it certainly isn’t a reason to skip or delay your child’s vaccines now.

Remember that even with our current outbreaks, rates of pertussis were much higher in the pre-vaccine era.

What to Know About Vaccines and Asymptomatic Carriers of Pertussis

The role of asymptomatic carriers and pertussis is controversial, but it certainly isn’t a reason to skip or delay your child’s vaccines.

More on the Vaccines and Asymptomatic Carriers of Pertussis

Which Vaccines Don’t Prevent the Spread of a Disease?

As most folks know, Dr. Bob Sears has been put on probation by the California Medical Board.

Most vaccines don't prevent the spread of diseases?
Most vaccines don’t prevent the spread of disease???

Surprisingly, that hasn’t kept him from posting dangerous misinformation about vaccines, including his latest idea that “most vaccines don’t prevent the spread of a disease.”

Which Vaccines Don’t Prevent the Spread of a Disease?

If vaccines don’t prevent the spread of disease, then how did we eradicate, eliminate, and control so many diseases?

Dr. Bob Sears actually reassured parents that measles wasn't deadly in developed countries, neglecting to mention the dozens of people who have died in outbreaks in Europe - another well-nourished population with lower vaccination rates than the U.S.
At least seven people have died in Italy with measles over the last few years. That’s not so good for Italy.

When was the last time you saw someone with small pox, rubella, diphtheria, or polio, for example?

It is true that vaccines don’t prevent the spread of some infections though.

There is tetanus, for example, but guess what?

Tetanus isn’t contagious.

Any others?

Well, unlike most other vaccines, the meningococcal B vaccines are not thought to decrease nasal carriage of the meningococcal B bacteria. So if you are vaccinated and an asymptomatic carrier of the bacteria, you could theoretically spread it to someone else, as could someone who is unvaccinated.

Still, the MenB vaccines can protect you from getting actual meningococcal B disease, and if you don’t have meningococcemia or meningococcal meningitis, you won’t expose and spread it to someone else. That’s why the MenB vaccines are especially useful in outbreak situations.

Any others? After all, Dr. Bob did say that “most vaccines don’t prevent the spread of a disease.”

Vaccines That Don’t Prevent the Spread of a Disease

There are a few other examples of vaccines that don’t prevent the spread of a disease.

“I also warn them not to share their fears with their neighbors, because if too many people avoid the MMR, we’ll likely see the diseases increase significantly.”

Dr. Bob Sears in The Vaccine Book

Of course, any vaccine that is delayed or skipped won’t work to prevent the spread of a disease.

Just like they are seeing measles outbreaks and deaths now, because of low vaccination rates, in Ukraine there were 17,387 cases of diphtheria and 646 deaths from 1992 to 1997. Also high, were cases of measles (over 23,000 cases in 1993) and pertussis (almost 7,000 cases in 1993).

And because of waning immunity, vaccines don’t do as good a job of preventing the spread of pertussis and mumps as we would like. Still, that’s only when the vaccines don’t work, and even then, as Dr. Bob says, they do work to reduce the severity of symptoms.  During recent mumps outbreaks, the rates of complications are far below historical levels. The same is true for pertussis.

Have you ever seen or heard an unvaccinated child with pertussis? It is truly heartbreaking, especially when you realize how easily it could be prevented.

We typically see the same thing with flu. Even when the flu vaccine isn’t a good match or isn’t as effective as we would like, it still has a lot of benefits, including reducing your risk of dying.

“IPV induces very low levels of immunity in the intestine. As a result, when a person immunized with IPV is infected with wild poliovirus, the virus can still multiply inside the intestines and be shed in the faeces, risking continued circulation.”

Inactivated poliovirus vaccine

Does the fact that IPV, the inactivated polio vaccine, can sometimes lead to infections and shedding mean that it doesn’t prevent infections?

Of course not!

“IPV triggers an excellent protective immune response in most people.”

Inactivated poliovirus vaccine

Most people vaccinated with IPV will be immune, won’t get wild polio, and so won’t be able to get anyone else sick.

Vaccines reduce disease by direct protection of vaccinees and by indirect protection of nonimmune persons. Indirect protection depends on a reduction in infection transmission, and hence on protection (immunity) against infection, not just against disease. If a vaccine were to protect only against disease, and not at all against infection, then it would have no influence on infection transmission in the community and there would be no indirect protection (vaccination of one person would have no influence on any others in the community). It would be possible to reduce disease with such a vaccine but not to eradicate the infection.

Plotkin’s Vaccines

But because IPV doesn’t provide indirect protection, we still use OPV in parts of the world where polio is more of a problem.

Vaccines work. Even the few that don’t prevent the spread of infections, still help to reduce disease.

What’s the Difference Between Infections and Disease?

Wait, is there a difference between infection and disease?

Yes there is, something that Dr. Bob, who actually wrote a book about vaccines, seems to have overlooked.

An infection is simply the presence of a virus, bacteria, or other organism in your body.

A disease, on the other hand, is a virus or bacteria in your body causing signs and symptoms.

All vaccines work to prevent disease, or at least they do when you actually get vaccinated.

A very few don’t prevent infections and the spread of infections, but that is not a good reason to skip or delay your child’s vaccines. In fact, it is one of the reasons why it is important to have high vaccination rates! Even natural infections don’t always keep you from becoming asymptomatic carriers that can infected others. Many people who have natural typhoid (remember Typhoid Mary?) and hepatitis B infections go on to become chronic carriers without any symptoms, but still able to infect others.

If you understand that a few vaccines don’t prevent the spread of infections, then you should understand that you can’t hide in the herd and expect to be protected, even though most folks around you are vaccinated.

What to Know About Vaccines and the Spread of Disease

Despite what Dr. Bob says, almost all vaccines work to prevent the spread of disease and infections, at least they do when you get your kids vaccinated.

More on Vaccines and the Spread of Disease