Telethon Kids Institute

NEWS BRIEFING: Whooping cough vaccine could help in the fight against food allergies

Embargoed until: Publicly released:

*BRIEFING RECORDING AVAILABLE* A dose of the whooping cough vaccine might have reduced cases of childhood food allergies, according to Australian researchers who reviewed the cases of 500 children diagnosed with food allergy by specialist allergists in the late 1990s. The researchers found that children who had received one or more doses of an older 'whole-cell' whooping cough vaccine were 23 per cent less likely to be diagnosed with a food allergy than those who had the updated ‘acellular’ version. Researchers say this provides evidence that the whole-cell 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, but more research will be needed to confirm this.

Journal/conference: The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice

DOI: 10.1016/j.jaip.2019.12.020

Organisation/s: Telethon Kids Institute, The University of Western Australia, The University of Sydney, The University of Adelaide, Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI)

Funder: This research was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia. ( Th e NHMRC Project Grant (APP1069772) was awarded to TLS, DEC, MSG, PR, KJA, HEQ, CSW, NJW, PBM, and PGH. TLS is supported by an NHMRC Career Development Fellowship (GNT1111657). The funder of the study approved the study design, but had no role in the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data, or in writing of the report or the decision to submit for publication. The corresponding author had full access to all the data in the study and had final responsibility for the decision to submit for publication. Tom's conflict of interest statement: The study was fully funded by NHMRC (received no industry or other funding). One of the authors received a previous grant from GlaxoSmithKline and has served on advisory panels for GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi with no remuneration.

Media Briefing/Press Conference

From: Australian Science Media Centre


  • Professor Tom Snelling is a paediatrician and vaccine researcher at the Wesfarmers Centre of Vaccines and Infectious Diseases, based at Telethon Kids Institute

Date: Mon 20 Jan 2020
Start Time: 10:00am AEDT
Duration: Approx 45 min 
Venue: Online

This event has now ended. You can find a full recording below, or by clicking here.


  • Australian Science Media Centre
    Web page
    Full briefing recording

Expert Reaction

These comments have been collated by the Science Media Centre to provide a variety of expert perspectives on this issue. Feel free to use these quotes in your stories. Views expressed are the personal opinions of the experts named. They do not represent the views of the SMC or any other organisation unless specifically stated.

Professor Katie Flanagan is Head of Infectious Diseases at Launceston General Hospital in Tasmania, and Clinical Professor at the University of Tasmania

This retrospective case-control study suggests that the change from using whole-cell pertussis (wP) to acellular pertussis (aP) containing vaccines in the late 1990s may have contributed to the marked increase in food allergy in Australia.

Such non-targeted effects of vaccines have been well-described in the literature in recent years and occur because vaccines can modify the immune profile and thereby alter susceptibility to allergy and infections that are not targeted by the vaccine.

This offers the exciting potential to harness these vaccine properties in future vaccination strategies to provide broader effects than simply protecting against the vaccine-targeted disease.

Last updated: 21 Jan 2020 11:51am
Declared conflicts of interest:
Previous vaccine advisory board member for Seqiris and Sanofi Pasteur. Current member of ATAGI – these represent my own views and not necessarily those of ATAGI.

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