Protecting babies from whooping cough before they’re even born

Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a highly contagious respiratory illness that can be fatal and is especially dangerous for young babies. Effective vaccines against whooping cough have been available and recommended for infants and children as part of the DTaP vaccine for many decades. The CDC recommends giving babies the DTaP vaccine at 2, 4, and 6 months of age.

This leaves babies who are too young to receive the vaccine vulnerable to whooping cough. But a study published last week in The Journal of the American Medical Association provides strong evidence that mothers can give their babies antibodies to fight whooping cough by getting vaccinated during the third trimester of their pregnancies – and the researchers found the vaccine to be safe and effective for both mothers and babies.

The CDC recommends that pregnant women receive the Tdap vaccine (which is designed for teens and adults and contains protection against whooping cough) during each pregnancy even if they received the vaccine prior to becoming pregnant. They also recommend that all caregivers are vaccinated against whooping cough to limit newborns’ exposure to whooping cough.

We asked adults in the National Poll on Children’s Health for their views about protecting babies from pertussis/whooping cough. Almost three-quarters of adults in the poll said parents should have the right to insist that people visiting their newborn baby in the hospital receive the pertussis vaccine. But almost two-thirds of adults did not know when they were last vaccinated against pertussis. Read the full report: Protecting newborns from whooping cough.

Whooping cough infographic

View full size image | See more children's health infographics

This is a serious issue for parents of newborns since whooping cough affected more than 41,000 U.S. children and adults in 2012 and the majority of deaths from whooping cough are in babies younger than 3 months old. That’s why experts recommend vaccination for pregnant women, other family members at home, and other adult caregivers in addition to vaccinating babies themselves starting at 2 months of age.

To learn more about this poll and whooping cough vaccination in young babies, watch this short video with Dr. Matt Davis, a Pediatrician and the Director of the National Poll on Children’s Health.