A modelling analysis of pertussis transmission and vaccination in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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Pertussis is an infectious respiratory disease for which mass vaccination is an effective preventive strategy. In many developed countries, where high vaccination coverage has been maintained for approximately 50 years, re-emergence of the disease has been observed in all age groups. In the municipality of Rio de Janeiro (RJ), where vaccination started in the 1980s, surveillance data show no sign of disease re-emergence. We developed a mathematical model that incorporates the major demographic aspects of a large urban centre in a developing nation, in addition to the most important epidemiological aspects of disease transmission. Parameter values were estimated based on RJ demographic and vaccine coverage data. Overall, all vaccination strategies determined a major decrease (over 95% decrease when compared to the pre-vaccine era) in the incidence of primary infections (occurring in individuals who have never been immunized through infection or vaccine). On the other hand, the strategies (a) three doses at age 2–11 months, (b) three doses plus booster at age 12–23 months, (c) three doses plus booster at age 4–5 years, and (d) three doses plus both boosters, differently affected the incidence of secondary infections (occurring in previously infected/vaccinated individuals). Given that the immunity against pertussis wanes with time and that the infectious agent has not been eliminated from the population, it is expected that pertussis will continue to be a problem in RJ. Actually, since immunity acquired from vaccine wanes faster than disease-acquired immunity and the possibility of natural boosters has decreased with mass vaccination, an increase in the incidence of secondary infections among older age groups is expected (and predicted by the model). Possible explanations as to why this dynamics is not captured by the RJ surveillance system are discussed. A poorly effective surveillance system and a lack of awareness regarding loss of immunity and the possibility of pertussis infection in older age groups are among them. Finally, we bring attention to the need of (i) field studies for the measurement of pertussis incidence in adolescents and adults; (ii) better understanding of the transmission dynamics currently occurring in RJ, and (iii) re-evaluation of vaccination strategies with the possible introduction of a cellular vaccines for the vaccination of older individuals.

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