Home > In the News, Preventable Diseases > With Only 6% of Adults Immunized Against Pertussis, What Hope is There for Our Newborns?

With Only 6% of Adults Immunized Against Pertussis, What Hope is There for Our Newborns?

By Christine Vara

After viewing the recent CBS News coverage of pertussis, it’s a wonder all five of my children survived past infancy.

The piece led with a heartbreaking story of Mariah Bianchi, a responsible mother and nurse.  Concerned about her own sickness at the time she gave birth, and the possibility that she could infect her newborn child Dylan, Mariah inquired about whooping cough to her doctor.  She was wrongfully advised that whooping cough is a disease of the past that we don’t see anymore.  Tragically, her once healthy baby died as a result of pertussis (also known as whooping cough) within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms.   Without ever being diagnosed herself, she had unkowningly infected her son.  Just like that, her precious baby was gone.  

While these events occurred back in 2005, the  unfortunate “news” is that this situation continues to occur today, five years later.  In the case of the current California pertussis epidemic, there have been approximately 4,017 cases recorded in the state this year.  Since this number is significantly higher than years past, and is on record to surpass the record 4,949 cases reported in 1955, public  health officials are trying their best to encourage booster shots for anyone over the age of 7.  Unfortunately, while whooping cough is being spread among the population, what may present itself as persistent “100 day cough” to an adult, can prove to be a 48 hour horror story for parents, like Mariah, and their infant children.

As Dr. Paul Offit explains in the recent CBS News coverage, nine infants have died in CA so far this year, and like Dylan Bianchi, they were all under three months of age.  ‘”They are too young to be vaccinated,”  Offit says. ” They depended on those around them to be vaccinated so they would be protected; and they were let down.”

The most shocking statement from the entire report was that only six percent of adults are properly vaccinated against whooping cough.

Really?  Only six percent?  Why so low?

What most adults don’t understand is that the immunity that you receive as a result of a vaccination can wane over time.  In the case of pertussis, that can be within as few as 7-10 years.  What many adults wrongfully assume is that the shots they received as a child will continue to protect them throughout their life.  Therefore, while they think they are immune, they are most probably not.  The challenge therefore, is to persuade adults, who may not feel they are at risk of contracting pertussis, to get vaccinated.  They need to understand that unless they have had a pertussis booster shot within the past 10 years, they are probably no longer immune.  Also,  the majority of infant pertussis cases are a result of exposure by an infected family member.  Since pertussis is often difficult to diagnose, it may often being mistaken for a terrible cough and cold.  While this may inconvenient for an adult, it is life threatening to a young child.  Sadly, 63% of infants under the age of one year who contract the disease are subsequently hospitalized.  The rapid onset of this disease in young children proves to be extremely lifethreatening and therefore limiting a child’s exposure through vaccination of the entire population is the best protection we can offer.

What we are seeing in the state of California is a concentrated effort to create awareness and encourage widespread vaccination in order to limit the spread of this disease.  This messaging will hopefully spread to other states, such as Texas and Ohio, where they are also seeing an increase in pertussis cases.  But why not address this low adult immuniation rate nationwide?  Perhaps if we shout our message from the mountain tops people will be compassionate enough to take action – if not only for their own protection, for the sake of our newborns.  The fact is, that by staying up-to-date on their own pertussis booster, people can help protect the lives of countless children.

Please share this information with friends and family no matter where they live.  Perhaps your suggestion of a pertussis booster will be all that is need to convince one more adult to get vaccinated.  Really, is six percent the best we can do?

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