A Sibling’s Loss Means A Commitment to Protection
Apr 15, 2013
Last week people around the country celebrated National Sibling Day by flooding their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts with photos and memories that honored that special family bond we have with our siblings.
In the midst of all this fanfare, two sets of parents I know were announcing the newest addition to their families. As I received photos of Cain and Jaxon, who were born just weeks apart, I realized that although these children may never know one another, they will both share the same kind of loss. Both these boys will one day learn that their siblings left this world too soon.
Cain will most certainly look up to his big brother Cole and sister Chesney. But his sister Callie succumbed to pertussis in January 2010 when she was just five weeks old. And Jaxon, who will grow to appreciate the love of his two older sisters Samara and Madison, will forever miss his older brother Brady, who lost his battle to pertussis in January 2012 when he was two months old.
Cain and Jaxon are too young to know the story of their siblings’ loss. However their parents have dealt with the memories and pain every day since. That is why they are taking every possible precaution to ensure their youngest children remain healthy and protected through vaccination. To help prevent others from experiencing the tragedy they have lived through, they have since become vocal advocates for childhood immunization and pertussis awareness. And they are committed to educating other parents regarding the importance of adult Tdap vaccination to cocoon infant children who aren’t yet protected by the full series of vaccines.
Although Cain’s mother Katie had been current on her Tdap booster before she became pregnant, she followed the CDC’s new recommendations for pregnant women and received another booster back in December. For months prior to Cain’s expected arrival, the Van Tornhouts informed all their friends and family that they would need to be up to date on their adult Tdap booster if they had any expectation of seeing the baby after he was born. She adds,
“Once we got to the hospital to deliver, we hung a sign on our door that stated no one was allowed to enter who didn’t have a recent Tdap. This meant hospital workers as well. There were at least 3 staff members who came to my room who didn’t have a Tdap. They obeyed our wishes and didn’t come in. Here at home we have signs on both the front and back doors saying do no enter unless you have a recent tdap. In fact, our Fedex driver came to make a deliver the first week we were home and I had to sign for a package. He rang the bell and when I opened the door he was standing in the drive way. He explained that he wasn’t sure when his last booster was so he his tablet for me to sign on the step. Once I signed it I closed the door and he left the package. How nice that he was being so cautious. People like that rock!”
Jaxon’s mother Kathy explained that she too received an additional Tdap booster while she was pregnant and that they were taking extra precautions which involved “cocooning” Jaxon against pertussis. Not only have their friends and family all been asked to receive their Tdap vaccine, but they have made special arrangement for taking Jaxon to his doctor appointments:
“Appointments are made early in the day or first after lunch to ensure that no one else in the office. We need to make sure that there is no risk of anyone who hasn’t had their Tdap coming into contact with him.”
Kathy explains that they are also asking people to keep their distance if they want to admire him. Since pertussis is caused by bacteria that spreads easily from person to person through personal contact, coughing, and sneezing, she asks that everyone maintain a distance of more than three feet, since respiratory droplets within that space can still reach and potentially infect someone.
But it has been surprising for both parents to get the ever common question from acquaintances when they see them out without their babies.
“Where’s that new baby?” they are often asked.
Even when people insist that “it’s such a nice day”, Katie explains that Cain will stay home until he gets his second round of shots in July.
“Nice day or not, germs are still out there. Sure it’s hard, but the best thing for Cain is to stay cooped up!”
Kathy even shared the “Not Vaccinated? No Kisses!” image with all her contacts through text and Facebook to serve as a reminder to people to get vaccinated prior before Jaxon was born earlier this month.
Parents go to great lengths to protect their children. But if they don’t know the risk of pertussis exists, how can we expect them to take the steps necessary to protect their children through vaccination? Neither Katie nor Kathy were aware of the dangers of pertussis when they had Callie and Brady. But they have learned a great deal since then and they are sharing that information with others, even before Cain and Jaxon have arrived.
Parents need to understand that pertussis immunity in infants is best achieved after completing the full series of five Dtap shots. And all adults need to understand that pertussis immunity wanes over time and therefore requires a booster shot to remain effective. Unfortunately, if immunity has waned (which is likely if a teen or adult goes without a booster shot in the last 8-10 years) and they become infected with pertussis (which is extremely difficult to diagnose and therefore commonly left untreated), than they can be responsible for spreading pertussis in their community and for possibly infecting vulnerable children.
Now that a new study has shown that social networks are an important influence to parents in their decision to vaccinate, we ask you to consider…..what can you do to share this message? Is just vaccinating enough? How can we advocate for immunizations within our social networks so that we can ensure that no more children have to live without that special sibling bond?
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