Vaccinations “Cocoon” Infants Too Young to be Immunized
Dec 07, 2010
By Christine Vara
When our first child was born, my husband and I were intent on protecting her from harm. While we were probably like most new parents, I’ll admit my husband went to a few extremes. He would constantly analyze the position of the car seat to ensure her airways would not be restricted. He would tip toe into her room at night to ensure she was breathing. Once, we drove 14 hours to visit family, only for him to deny everyone the opportunity to hold her. They all teased him for his constant hovering, but they should have been grateful. What he really wanted to do was hand out surgical masks. While he received a great deal of ribbing for his defensive tactics, he was just doing his best to protect her.
The unfortunate reality is that we can’t raise our children in the proverbial “bubble” – even though that’s what we’d like to do. But that hasn’t stopped one determined couple from trying, and I can’t say that I blame them.
Sadly, the Van Tornhout family has suffered what must be the greatest pain imaginable. After five years and four miscarriages, Katie and Craig Van Tornhout, along with their son Cole, were overwhelmed with joy at the arrival of baby Callie into their lives. Their happiness soon turn to devastation when Callie fell ill with pertussis at just five weeks old, and in a matter of days, quickly lost her battle with this highly contagious disease.
Today, almost a year after losing Callie, Katie Van Tornhout is preparing to deliver another baby. While they are certainly thrilled by this new blessing, the family is admittedly quite emotional and cautious as they prepare for the arrival of yet another miracle in their lives. One way in which they intend to protect this precious baby is to insist that anyone who wishes to visit their newborn be up to date on their pertussis booster. This includes family, friends and even hospital employees. The truth is, we can take precautions like washing our hands and covering our coughs, but diseases are often transmitted through droplets in the air and immunization through vaccination has proved to be the best defense against a wide variety of diseases, including flu and pertussis.
In the case of pertussis, full immunization isn’t typically achieved until a child has received all three doses of DTaP vaccine series which begins at 2 months of age, continues at 4 months and then concludes with the final dose at 6 months. In the case of seasonal influenza, the vaccine is recommended annually but only for children over the age of six months. Because of these limitations, children under six months remain most vulnerable to both pertussis and flu in those fragile early months of life.
In response to the current pertussis outbreaks in states like California, where 10 children have already died just this year, public health officials are desperately trying to educate people regarding the importance of adult pertussis boosters, administered as TdaP shots. Prior to the birth of a new baby, parents and family members are encouraged to be vaccinated, while pregnant women are being advised to receive their booster shot just after delivery, if they haven’t already been vaccinated before pregnancy.
In regards to flu protection, everyone over the age of 6 months is encouraged to be vaccinated. Additionally, pregnant women should know that vaccination during pregnancy offers triple protection. First, changes to a woman’s immune system during pregnancy can make her more sensitive to the flu and result in serious complications if she is infected. Secondly, pregnant woman who fall ill with the flu have a greater chance for serious problems for their unborn baby, including premature labor and delivery. Another significant consideration in favor of flu vaccine for pregnant women is that a mother’s own immunity can be passed on to their unborn child. In fact, the Wall Street Journal Health blog, recently reported on a study published by the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine that found that babies born to pregnant women who were vaccinated against the flu were 41% less likely to develop the flu themselves. This is a considerable benefit of vaccination that pregnant women may not be aware of, but is an easy way to help protect their unborn children.
To further ensure protection of these young and vulnerable children, whose immune systems are not sufficiently developed to handle the vaccine or the illness, it becomes imperative that family members and others who come in contact with these infants get vaccinated themselves. By surrounding a child with people who are immunized, it forms a virtual “cocoon” around them, helping to prevent them from falling ill and suffering complications, hospitalizations and the possibility of death.
In light of the Van Tornhout’s newest arrival, and the fact that it happens to be National Influenza Vaccination Week, we hope that more people will take steps to ensure everyone in their family is up to date on their pertussis booster and vaccinated against seasonal flu. Remember, these simple steps you take will not only protect your family, but will also help prevent the spread of disease to others, including those like newborn Baby Van Tornhout’s, and all the other children out there that are too young to be vaccinated.
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