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April 1983

The Pertussis Vaccine Controversy: The Danger of Case Reports

Author Affiliations

Nashville, Tenn

Arch Neurol. 1983;40(4):193-194. doi:10.1001/archneur.1983.04050040023002

An epidemic of whooping cough swept Great Britain beginning in the last quarter of 1977 and lasting until 1979.1 There were 102,500 cases and 36 deaths reported in a population approximately one quarter the size of that of the United States, where approximately 3,000 cases and 12 deaths were reported during the same period.2 Whooping cough, it will be recalled, is an extremely contagious respiratory disease occurring mainly in infants and young children. The morbidity is substantial. During the 1977 through 1979 epidemic in England and Wales, 5,000 children were admitted to hospitals; 50 required admission to intensive care units, and 83 had convulsions.3 The epidemic followed a decline in the acceptance rate of pertussis immunization from over 80% in 1974 to 31% in 19784 as the result of a public media debate on the efficacy and, especially, the safety of pertussis vaccine. The question of