You’ve just gotten the most exciting news from your daughter and son-in-law – they are having a baby and you are going to be a grandmother in eight short months! But then she asked you to see your doctor to get a booster vaccine for pertussis (also known as whooping cough), called a Tdap. Is this really necessary? Or is your daughter just being overprotective?
According to Rachel Orscheln, MD, a specialist in pediatric infectious diseases at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, “Your daughter is absolutely correct in asking you to get a booster vaccine to protect your new grandbaby from pertussis. Most adults have been vaccinated when they were children. However, the vaccine doesn’t provide lifetime immunity. If you would happen to contract pertussis, you would most likely have a milder case, but you are at risk of spreading the infection to infants who aren’t fully protected because they have not completed their vaccine series.”
Whooping cough begins like a regular upper respiratory tract infection with symptoms that include runny nose, low grade fever and a mild cough — it is very contagious during this phase. After one to two weeks, a serious cough develops with rapid coughing fits that can sometimes be followed by a deep breath. This deep breath can sound like a “whoop” and this is where the condition gets its name.
This phase of whooping cough can last for as long as six weeks. It will gradually improve over time, but people can continue to have a cough for months.
For young infants, the infection can result in lower lung disease. Infants with pertussis can have episodes in which they stop breathing. This can progress to respiratory failure, and in severe cases, death can occur.
Vaccination protection against pertussis
The full vaccination series to protect children against pertussis takes several years to complete. Infants in the United States typically receive doses at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, and 15 to 18 months old, and again between the ages of 4 and 6 years old. A booster dose of Tdap is then given at 11 or 12 years of age.
Washington University physician Shelby Dickison, MD, specializes in obstetrics and gynecology. She says, “Protection against pertussis for newborns should begin before birth. Pregnant women should receive the Tdap booster shot in their third trimester of each pregnancy. In this way, protective antibodies from the mother can pass to the infant before birth – this helps protect the infant against exposure before he or she begins the vaccination series at age two months.”
However, despite these protective antibodies from the mother, infants remain susceptible to pertussis. Because of this, it is especially important for adults who have contact with new babies, like grandparents, aunts, uncles, childcare workers and healthcare professionals, to be vaccinated against pertussis with the Tdap vaccine. Vaccines can take several weeks to stimulate an antibody response, so it is important to be vaccinated well in advance of having contact with infants (at least two weeks is recommended).”
New grandparents should contact their primary care physician to schedule their Tdap booster dose before the baby is born. It’s the best new baby gift to give!
Looking for a primary care physician? In addition to providing expert specialty care, Washington University Physicians also offers access to primary care physicians and nurse practitioners throughout the St. Louis area. Find a primary care physician near you.
Expectant mothers should check with their ob/gyn to schedule the necessary vaccinations to protect their unborn child. To make an appointment with Dr. Dickison, please call 314-362-4211.
Center for Advanced Medicine – South County
5201 Midamerica Plaza
St. Louis, MO 63129
Barnes-Jewish Center for Outpatient Health
4901 Forest Park Avenue, Suite 710
St. Louis, MO 63108