It’s any mom-to-be’s number one concern: doing what she can to make sure her baby is healthy. That’s why Sarah Michelle Gellar decided to get a Tdap vaccine to protect her son, Rocky, from pertussis, or whooping cough: a highly contagious infection that can be deadly for babies.
“The best way to help prevent [pertussis] is to vaccinate yourself and your children against it,” the actress, who became national campaign ambassador for the Sounds of Pertussis campaign, told Celebrity Baby Scoop. The educational campaign from the March of Dimes and Sanofi Pasteur is spreading the word that it’s not just babies who carry whooping cough. “It can be the adults that give it to them,” Gellar explains.
Cases of pertussis have been climbing in the U.S. since the 1980s, and preliminary data shows the 2012 outbreak was the largest in nearly 60 years, according to Jennifer L. Liang, DVM, MPVM, an epidemiologist with the CDC who co-authored a study analyzing the impact of pregnancy vaccination on reducing annual infant pertussis incidence. The study, published online in Pediatrics, supports the current recommendation of the US Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices that the best time to get a Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis) vaccine is between the 27-weeks-pregnant and 36-weeks-pregnant marks, irrespective of the patient’s prior history of receiving Tdap, rather than postpartum, as was previously recommended.
CDC data shows that over 48,000 cases of pertussis were reported in the U.S. in 2012, along with 20 deaths, the majority of deaths being babies younger than 3 months old. "Newborns only have the antibodies they get from their mother to help protect them from pertussis until they are old enough to get their own vaccines. Getting Tdap while pregnant gives your baby the best protection possible against catching pertussis and having severe complications from the infection,” Liang says. In fact, researchers recently compared pregnant women who were vaccinated at 30 weeks to 32 weeks of pregnancy to pregnant women given a placebo, and found that babies of the vaccinated mothers had higher concentrations of pertussis antibodies, which may protect the newborns before they're old enough for their own shot. The study was published in JAMA.
In studies where researchers have been able to identify how a baby caught whooping cough, they determined that in about 80 percent of cases, someone in the baby’s household got the child sick, Liang says. More specifically, moms were responsible for 32 percent to 38 percent of infections in babies, followed by friends, cousins or others (10-24 percent); brothers and sisters (16-21 percent); dads (15–17 percent), aunts or uncles (10 percent); grandparents (6 percent); and caretakers (2 percent). The recent study from CDC researchers supports the current recommendation that “cocooning” your newborn by vaccinating your partner and other adults who will be around your baby, in addition to yourself, is beneficial.