Unvaccinated Babies Are Especially Vulnerable to Whooping Cough continued...
After the third dose, children are well protected: They have about 80% to 85% immunity to pertussis. If they do catch whooping cough despite the vaccine, the infection is usually mild.
But during their first six months -- and particularly the first two months of life before babies have been vaccinated -- babies are especially vulnerable to serious whooping cough infections, Keyserling tells WebMD.
For this reason, for infants with pertussis who are less than two months old, severe illness is the norm. “Ninety percent require hospitalization, one in five will develop a pneumonia, and one percent will die” from whooping cough, warns Keyserling.
Deaths from whooping cough are very rare in the U.S. But of the 156 deaths reported to the CDC between 2000 and 2006, 120 (77%) were newborns less than 1 month old.
“Preventing transmission to all young children, but especially to infants, is the major public health issue,” says Tami Skoff, MS, an epidemiologist at the CDC National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
Preventing Whooping Cough in Your Family
The first and most important rule of pertussis prevention isn’t complicated, says Skoff: “Vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate.” Vaccination is the single best way to prevent whooping cough.
Simply showing up for regular pediatrician visits, where your baby will be vaccinated on a regular schedule, will ensure early immunity for your child. “You’re also helping protect other children” through so-called “herd immunity,” adds Skoff: The more children who are vaccinated overall, the less pertussis can spread among them.
Most parents already realize the importance of early vaccination for pertussis and other childhood diseases. But because the vaccine’s protection doesn’t really take hold until the third injection, after a child is 6 months old, it’s important to stop the spread of whooping cough between family members before then.
The CDC now recommends a pertussis booster vaccine for everyone between ages 11 and 64. Pregnant women are also encouraged to get vaccinated, preferably between 27 and 36 weeks' gestation. Called Tdap, the booster shot is given once and provides approximately 90% renewed immunity against whooping cough. It’s not clear how long the protection lasts, but it appears to be at least five years.
The Tdap booster shot also renews immunity against diphtheria and tetanus. “For most people, it’s basically a booster for the original DTaP vaccine they’ve already received,” says Skoff.
The Tdap vaccine can be given at any time, although it is often spaced out if other vaccines and boosters have been given recently. In families with newborn babies in the house, everyone older than 11 years of age should most likely receive Tdap, experts say.
Experts are optimistic that widespread use of Tdap will drive serious cases of pertussis even lower. “We’re certainly hopeful that as we see higher uptake of the vaccine among adolescents, we’ll see a decrease in pertussis among vulnerable infants,” Keyserling tells WebMD.