Whooping cough vaccine could help in the fight against food allergies according to latest research by the Wesfarmers Centre of Vaccines and Infectious Diseases (WCVID).
The research, published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, indicates a dose of the whooping cough vaccine might reduce cases of childhood food allergy.
In practice, researchers have found that 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.
Professor Tom Snelling, paediatrician and vaccine researcher at WCVID, said that in Australia we use an ‘acellular’ whooping cough vaccine and all babies need to receive a dose from six weeks old, and again at four and six months.
“Many countries around the world use an older ‘whole-cell’ whooping cough vaccine, however this was replaced by the updated acellular vaccine across Australia in the late 1990s,” Professor Snelling said.
“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.”
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 per cent less likely to be diagnosed with a food allergy than those who didn’t.
Professor Snelling emphasises that both the acellular vaccine and the older whole-cell vaccines are proven to be safe and effective in providing vital protection against whooping cough, but points out that allergic and other serious reactions caused by vaccines are known to be extremely rare, so the results support the theory that some vaccines might actually 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.”
The study also adds evidence indicating 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.
The research team have been awarded a $3.9 million grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council to further investigate these findings and is conducting a carefully 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,” said Professor Snelling.
“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.”