This is National Infant Immunization Week, and this year’s recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and from the Minnesota Department of Health call for new action by parents-to-be.
Whooping cough, or pertussis, is an awful disease. Adolescents and adults who contract it learn the hard way why the Chinese call it “the Hundred Days’ Cough.” They also discover that testing for it means a swab down the back of their nasal passages and that antibiotics do little but prevent the spread.
But those experiences pale to what pertussis does to infants. It can kill infants. In fact, 90 percent of pertussis deaths occur in infants younger than four months. And, while we have a vaccine, infants need three doses over six months to acquire immunity.
New this year are changes to protect infants from dying of pertussis. Pregnant women are to get a dose of Tdap (the adult form of tetanus-diphtheria-acellular pertussis vaccine) during every pregnancy, preferably at 27 to 36 weeks’ gestation. This maximizes the antibodies the mother can provide the infant.
Beyond the womb, parents can surround their infant with Tdap-immunized siblings and other household members, including the father and grandparents, to reduce the chance of infection. Everyone who enters the infant’s life should have received Tdap — ideally before the infant is born.
Dr. Robert M. Jacobson, Dr. Daron Gersch and Dr. Bridget B. Keller
Jacobson is president of the Minnesota chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Gersch is president of the Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians. Keller is chair of the Minnesota section of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.