Pregnant? Don’t Forget Your Whooping Cough Vaccine

December 19, 2013

It is never too early to start protecting a newborn – and with whooping cough it can, and should, start before that baby is even born. During the third trimester of every pregnancy, expectant mothers should get a tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (Tdap) vaccination, according to a recommendation from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). The Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) wants to make sure every family knows about the recommendation and takes steps to protect infants against whooping cough.

When the Tdap vaccine is given to a pregnant woman, it provides whooping cough protection for both the mother and her unborn child. Infants are extremely vulnerable to pertussis and having severe complications from it.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 48,000 cases of pertussis were reported in the U.S. in 2012; nearly 2,300 of those cases were in infants younger than 3 months of age, and 15 of those infants died. Studies have shown that when the source of pertussis was identified, mothers were responsible for up to 40 percent of infant infections.

In Georgia, 205 pertussis cases have been reported so far this year. One-fourth of those cases occurred in infants younger than 1 year, one of whom died from the disease. About half of infants younger than 1 year who get pertussis are hospitalized.

Ebony Thomas, vaccine-preventable disease epidemiologist at DPH, said parents should know that vaccination against pertussis is important to everyone, not just infants.

“Tdap vaccination is especially important for anyone who will be in contact with infants, like parents, grandparents, siblings, caregivers and babysitters,” said Ebony Thomas, vaccine-preventable disease epidemiologist at DPH.

DPH has played a major role in multiple efforts to curtail this preventable disease. In July 2011, Georgia passed a law requiring each hospital in the state to provide parents of newborns with educational information on pertussis and the availability of vaccine to protect against the disease. DPH developed materials for hospitals to use.

Additionally, DPH has supported a new school mandate, beginning in the 2014-2015 school year, requiring all children entering seventh grade in Georgia to receive a Tdap vaccination. A booster shot is important, Thomas said because protection provided by DTaP, the version of the vaccine given to children age 7 and younger, wears off as kids get older.

“Requiring seventh graders to get this important booster vaccination not only protects preteens and teens, but also the people around them, especially little babies and older adults,” she said.

DPH works with health care providers throughout the state to recognize suspect pertussis cases and identify close contacts to prevent further spread of disease.

For more information on pertussis, including prevention tools, potential symptoms and treatment recommendations, visit

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