Using age-stratified incidence data to examine the transmission consequences of pertussis vaccination

Pertussis is a highly infectious respiratory disease that has been on the rise in many countries worldwide over the past several years. The drivers of this increase in pertussis incidence remain hotly debated, with a central and long-standing hypothesis that questions the ability of vaccines to eliminate pertussis transmission rather than simply modulate the severity of disease. In this paper, we present age-structured case notification data from all provinces of Thailand between 1981 and 2014, a period during which vaccine uptake rose substantially, permitting an evaluation of the transmission impacts of vaccination. Our analyses demonstrate decreases in incidence across all ages with increased vaccine uptake - an observation that is at odds with pertussis case notification data in a number of other countries. To explore whether these observations are consistent with a rise in herd immunity and a reduction in bacterial transmission, we analyze an age-structured model that incorporates contrasting hypotheses concerning the immunological and transmission consequences of vaccines. Our results lead us to conclude that the most parsimonious explanation for the combined reduction in incidence and the shift to older age groups in the Thailand data is vaccine-induced herd immunity.

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