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Pertussis vaccine could help in the fight against food allergies

Published online: December 28, 2019

In research published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice, Australian researchers led by Professor Tom Snelling at the Wesfarmers Centre of Vaccines and Infectious Diseases at the Telethon Kids Institute have found evidence that a type of whooping cough vaccine might help to protect infants from developing food allergies.

Rates of IgE mediated food allergy have increased significantly in high income settings such as Australia, the United Kingdom and the USA in the last 20 years, with up to 1 in every 10 Australian babies developing a food-related allergy. In Australia, this rise in food allergy coincided with the phasing out of whole cell pertussis vaccine in favor of less reactogenic acellular vaccines in the late 1990s.

The study investigated the idea that whole cell pertussis vaccination may have been protective against the development of food allergy when it was given as part of the infant immunization schedule.  Over 500 children diagnosed with IgE mediated food allergy who were born during the changeover from whole cell to acellular pertussis vaccine were identified through specialist allergy clinics in Australia. When the vaccine records of these children were compared with matched population controls, researchers found that food allergic cases were 23% less likely to have received one or more doses of whole-cell vaccine.

The authors caution this was an observational study and further research is needed. If an allergy-protective effect of whole cell vaccine can be confirmed, whole cell-containing vaccines might form part of an effective strategy for combatting the rise in food allergies. The research team are now conducting a controlled trial which will involve up to 3000 Australian babies, randomising them to receive either whole cell or acellular pertussis vaccine and then monitoring them for the development of food allergy.  

The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice is an official journal of the AAAAI, focusing on practical information for the practicing clinician.

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