Pertussis (whooping cough) is an endemic and epidemic disease due to Bordetella pertussis. The disease has been and still is a major cause of morbidity and mortality in young children throughout the world. The World Health Organization estimates that 600,000 deaths due to pertussis occur yearly; virtually all of these deaths occurred in unimmunized infants.1 In the United States, pertussis has been successfully controlled by the routine mass immunization of infants and children. In the prevaccine era, there were 115,000 to 270,000 cases of pertussis and 5,000 to 10,000 deaths due to the disease each year.2 During the last 10 years, there have been 1,200 to 4,000 cases and five to ten deaths per year.3-6
Unfortunately, the control of pertussis by immunization has not enjoyed sustained international success because of controversy relating to vaccine reactions and effectiveness. Since 1982 this controversy has been a problem in the United States. Most pediatricians as well as a large number of parents are aware of the present pertussis vaccine controversy; however, few understand the facts. This controversy involving the media, political and legal sectors, and the scientific community is a major threat to our present immunization program and the future control of pertussis in the United States7-11 ("20/20," ABC News, Feb 5, 1985; "DPT: Vaccine Roulette," National Broadcasting Co, Date, 1982; Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester, NY, March 8-12, 1987, p 1; The Fresno Bee, Dec 2-3, 1984, p 1; Dec 5, 1987, p B14). Because of this, a task force on pertussis and pertussis vaccine was created by the Executive Board of the American Academy of Pediatrics to review the problem.