How My Sister Helped Save My Daughter From Whooping Cough 
Jun 19, 2017

TamaraSheffieldHeadShotBy Tamara Sheffield, MD, MPA, MPH, Medical Director, Community Health and Prevention, Intermountain Healthcare

In my role as a medical director at Intermountain Healthcare in Salt Lake City, Utah, I am responsible for Community Health and Prevention.  You could say that I’m a professional advocate for immunizations, since they prevent many illnesses, hospitalizations and even deaths.  In fact, maternal immunizations are one of today’s most promising new preventive health strategies.

By vaccinating pregnant women against certain diseases – like whooping cough (pertussis) and influenza – we are reducing the amount of illness, hospitalization, miscarriage and pre-term labor these women experience as a result of these diseases.

Additionally, maternal vaccines enable pregnant women to pass on protective antibodies to their unborn babies.  These antibodies provide newborns with early, short-term protection against pertussis or flu, during the time when they are too young to receive their own vaccines to prevent these diseases.

For instance, children must be six months of age before they can receive their first flu vaccination, and the DTaP vaccine, which helps prevent whooping cough in children, is administered as a series of five shots (with doses at 2, 4, 6, 15-18 months, and 4-6 years of age). Sadly, there are about 100 pediatric deaths due to influenza each year, and 90% of all deaths associated with whooping cough are among infants, mostly because the thick mucus that accompanies the infection has a severe impact on a baby’s ability to breath.

For an expectant woman, changes in the immune system, heart and lungs during pregnancy make them more prone to illness.  When a pregnant women gets ill, it raises her risk of complications, such as premature labor and delivery.  But research shows that mothers can help protect themselves and their babies by getting vaccinated during pregnancy.

The flu vaccine is recommended at any trimester of each pregnancy. An adult Tdap booster vaccine is recommended during each pregnancy as well – and studies show that the best time for optimal transfer of protective antibodies is at 27-to-36 weeks gestation. The ongoing research continues to indicate that these maternal immunizations are effective at reducing the number of flu and whooping cough-related illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths among infants.

The abundance of scientific evidence on this matter is one reason I am a strong advocate for maternal vaccinations.  However, I have a very personal reason to advocate for maternal vaccinations as well.

You see, I know an amazing 25-year-old young woman who nearly died from whooping cough when she was just three weeks old. 

Alicia Outside ICU at Phoenix Childrens' Hospital

Like many infants who suffer with whooping cough, this beautiful baby girl contracted it from a family member.  During the weeks before delivery, her mother developed a persistent cough that went undiagnosed, and she unknowingly passed whooping cough on to her baby.  Three weeks later, after a couple of incidents where the baby stopped breathing and turned blue, her parents rushed her to the hospital.

While being examined by the ER doctor, the baby once again stopped breathing and turned blue. Immediately a code was called and the baby was given breathing help.  She was life-flighted to Phoenix Children’s Hospital where she spent three days in the ICU and another three days outside of ICU.  Although the worrisome cough continued for weeks, the baby would eventually recover without complications.

Surprisingly, this young lady is now my daughter. 

My husband’s sweet first wife – my step daughter’s mother – died from cancer ten years ago. My husband and I have been married eight years now, and I have gratefully become a second mother to their seven wonderful children.

SheffiedFamilyThe amazing twist in this story came about when we were looking through our daughter’s baby book. There were pictures from the ICU and two newspaper articles written about the whooping cough outbreak in Phoenix at the time. It wasn’t until then that we realized that my sister, a specialist in pediatric infectious diseases, was part of the team at Phoenix Children’s Hospital that saved my daughter’s life 16 years before I ever met her or my husband.

I can’t imagine my life or this world without my daughter in them!  What a gift from my sister, and what an amazing gift that my daughter survived! 

img_3282.jpgNeedless to say, our 25-year-old miracle daughter has gotten every recommended vaccine for herself and her own one-year-old daughter. I am grateful that she survived, and her story motivates me to help ensure that no other child has to suffer or risk a tragedy as she did.

So yes, I am an enormous advocate of vaccination.

With science guiding the way, I believe that today’s maternal vaccine recommendations will help reduce the number of infant deaths from whooping cough and influenza.  After all, what a gift it is for expectant mothers to realize the wonderful ways that vaccines can help save lives – their own babies’ lives – even before their babies are born.

Tamara Sheffield, MD, MPA, MPH, Medical Director, Community Health and Prevention
Intermountain Healthcare

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21 responses to “How My Sister Helped Save My Daughter From Whooping Cough ”

  1. doritmi says:

    What a touching, powerful story. I am sorry your daughter suffered so, but am inspired by your tale of your sister.

  2. Johanna says:


    I appreciate your story, but your anecdotal experience doesn’t prove that vaccine’s are safe for pregnant women or effective in preventing infection.

    The FDA classifies the Tdap vaccine as a Class C Drug. Studies have shown that taking Class C drugs during pregnancy can lead to birth defects of the heart and lungs, preterm birth and delayed fetal head growth. Also, Class C drugs can increase blood pressure in the mother and this can lead to a deadly condition known as pre-eclampsia.

    A CDC study suggests that the resurgence of Whooping Cough is due to the vaccine causing an increased and more virulent toxin. The CDC acknowledges that whooping cough is recurring in highly vaccinated populations. They also concluded that there is a high secondary transmission rate from vaccinated individuals. The CDC states in the study…“Vaccinated adolescents and adults may serve as reservoirs for silent infection and become potential transmitters to unprotected infants. Therefore, even young, recently vaccinated children may serve as reservoirs and potential transmitters of infection.”

  3. Johanna says:

    Pregnant woman gets vaccines. Vaccines cause fevers.

    Study…”Fever during pregnancy may raise the risk for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the child, according to a study led by scientists at the Center for Infection and Immunity (CII) at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.”

  4. Johanna says:

    Studies show that it is more likely that vaccinated individuals are the ones spreading the disease, because, like influenza, pertussis has actually mutated over the years (possibly because of the vaccine) and is possibly a worse version and more contagious, and the current vaccine strain is not working. In fact, it is the vaccinated who can be colonized with parapertussis as opposed to bortadella pertussis and therefore spread the disease. There are medically established reasons that the vaccinated are getting sick, the dtap vaccine is making the recipients MORE susceptible to the current strain, and therefore one should avoid getting the vaccine when pregnant because it could potentially damage the unborn, as it will raise the chances of the infant catching the new strain and especially when the vaccine insert states, that the vaccine has not been studied for safety in reproduction, or for use in pregnant women.

  5. Johanna says:

    The protocol of “cocooning” newborns by vaccinating everyone in contact with them can be very dangerous on the basis of possible disguising of the infection of those recently vaccinated. The Whooping Cough vaccine does not shed, as I believe only live viruses shed, and the vaccine is not meant to stop transmission (it doesn’t), but it can “lessen” the symptoms so a recently vaccinated person may have whooping cough and not know it. They may think they have a normal cough or worse yet, may be completely asymptomatic, and yet contagious passing it on to everybody without knowing and that is scary.

  6. Johanna says:

    This research suggests that although individuals immunized with an acellular pertussis vaccine may be protected from disease, they may still become infected with the bacteria without always getting sick and are able to spread infection to others, including young infants who are susceptible to pertussis disease.

  7. Lawrence says:

    Well, let’s start with this:

    Okay, so you don’t like the vaccine – but how else do you suppose we are going to protect babies from Pertussis?

    Also, your sources don’t really say you what you are claiming they say – also, parapertussis isn’t regular pertussis & we don’t vaccinate against it – so again, pretty much a non-sequitur there.

    And actual studies which show that the vaccine is safe during pregnancy:

  8. Scott says:

    To your point Johanna…
    4250% increase in fetal death following flu vaccination in pregnancy

  9. Lawrence says:

    OH FFS – that’s not even close to being true…..because, just by shear logic alone, that type of increase would have meant every single baby would have died, at least twice.

    Seriously, do anti-vaxers even understand the simplest concepts?

  10. Lawrence says:

    It’s the worst kind of dumpster-diving, horrible science trying to use VAERS for something it was never intended for:

  11. Chris says:

    Gary Goldman! An article by Gary Goldman, that is hilarious:

  12. Scott says:


    All of the studies you provide were done by the actual companies making the products, it’s like the fox guarding the hen house.

    Oh, and you support studies from criminals like Dr. Poul Thorsen who was indicted on 22 counts of wire fraud and money laundering by a U.S. Federal Grand Jury.

  13. Chris says:

    Scott, please list the company that paid for this paper that Lawrence linked to: “Acellular Pertussis Vaccines and Complement Killing of Bordetella pertussis”

    Be sure to provide the direct quote from the paper to show it was a company paid study.

  14. Lawrence says:

    Non-sequitur Scott – I can show you how the methodology used by the likes of Goldman is stupendously wrong, yet all you can do is attack a single individual (who wasn’t even the lead author of any studies).

  15. Adam says:

    Anti-Vaxxers are the leprosy of our society.

  16. dingo199 says:

    “A CDC study suggests that the resurgence of Whooping Cough is due to the vaccine causing an increased and more virulent toxin”

    No, that is not what the CDC have said at all.
    The reurgence is due to more cases of whooping cough being notified. The vast majority of these are in those who previously had whooping cough and immunity has faded, or those who were vaccinated and vaccine immunity has faded.
    But we also know that the clinical illness in someone who has previously been vaccinated is very mild, or even asymptomatic in many cases.
    So to imply that whooping cough cases now are being caused by some mutant, hypervirulent strain is utter nonsense.

  17. dingo199 says:

    “Pregnant woman gets vaccines. Vaccines cause fevers.
    Study…”Fever during pregnancy may raise the risk for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the child, according to a study led by scientists at the Center for Infection and Immunity (CII) at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.”

    Infections during pregnancy pose the greatest risk of fever.
    Vaccination only causes fever in a very small proportion of cases, and even if it does, the fever is usually much lower grade and shorter duration than it would be from that experienced by everyone with the infection.

    But thanks for posting a citation that supports the argument for vaccination in pregnancy.

  18. dingo199 says:

    Johanna, you cite research indicating that vaccinated persons may become infected with pertusiss, and because they are asymptomatic, can infect others who are susceptible, such as newborns, which you describe as “scary”.

    I’d agree with you – it is scary for newborns (or any child) to get a full blown episode of natural pertussis. That’s one of the reasons to vaccinate, since as you seem to accept, eben if a vaccinated individual later gets disease, it will be a mild or asymptomatic infection.
    Since newborns are too young to be vaccinated, the ideal way to protect them is to stimulate maternally-derived transplacental immunity. This is acconmplished by giving Mumm a vaccine booster in mid-late pregnancy. It works brilliantly well!

    PS: We know that just having a vaccine greatly reduces the risk of later infection with pertussis, so it makes perfect sense. Not only are you 23 times less likely to get an infection, but even if you do it will be far milder than natural infection in an unvaccinated person.

    Thanks again for reminding us how dangerous/scary pertussis may be, and for providing evidence supportive of vaccination, Johanna!

  19. dingo199 says:

    Oh, and just to nail the lie that vaccination of mothers is not effective at preventing pertussis infection in infants, we have plenty of evidence to say it is highly effective, including these:

  20. dingo199 says:

    And regarding safety of TDaP in pregnancy, we have these papers:

    •McMillan M, Clarke M, Parrella A, Fell DB, Amirthalingam G, Marshall HS. Safety of tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis vaccination during pregnancy: A systematic review. Obstet Gynecol. 2017 Feb 6.

    •DeSilva M, Vazquez-Benitez G, Nordin JD, et al. Tdap vaccination during pregnancy and microcephaly and other structural birth defects in offspring. JAMA. 2016;316(17):1823–5.

    •Sukumaran L, McCarthy NL, Kharbanda EO, et al. Safety of tetanus toxoid, reduced diphtheria toxoid, and acellular pertussis and influenza vaccinations in pregnancy. Obstet Gynecol. 2015;126(5):1069–74.

    •Sukumaran L, McCarthy NL, Kharbanda EO, et al. Association of Tdap vaccination with acute events and adverse birth outcomes among pregnant women with prior tetanus-containing immunizations. JAMA. 2015;314(15):1581–7.

    •Morgan JL, Baggari SR, McIntire DD, Sheffield JS. Pregnancy outcomes after antepartum tetanus, diphtheria, and acellular pertussis vaccination. Obstet Gynecol. 2015;125(6):1433–8.

    •Czeizel AE, Rockenbauer M. Tetanus toxoid and congenital abnormalities. Int J Gynecol Obstet. 1999;64:253–8.

    •Donegan K, King B, Bryan P. Safety of pertussis vaccination in pregnant women in UK: Observational study. BMJ. 2014;349:g4219.

    •Hardy-Fairbanks AJ, Pan SJ, Decker MD, et al. Immune responses in infants whose mothers received Tdap vaccine during pregnancy. Pediatr Infect Dis J. 2013;32:1257-60.
    •Kharbanda EO, Vazquez-Benitez G, Lipkind HS, et al. Evaluation of the Association of Maternal Pertussis Vaccination With Obstetric Events and Birth Outcomes. JAMA. 2014;312(18):1897–1904.

    •Kharbanda EO, Vazquez-Benitez G, Lipkind H, et al. Receipt of pertussis vaccine during pregnancy across 7 Vaccine Safety Datalink Sites. Prev Med. 2014;67:316–9.

    •Liang J. Overview of Tdap use during pregnancy: unpublished and recent data. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), Atlanta, GA; February 23, 2011.
    •Moro P. Safety of Tdap vaccine during pregnancy: enhanced surveillance in VAERS presented to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), Atlanta, GA; February 26, 2014.

    •Munoz FM, Bond NH, Maccato M, et al. Safety and immunogenicity of tetanus diphtheria and acellular pertussis (Tdap) immunization during pregnancy in mothers and infants: A randomized clinical trial. JAMA. 2014;311(17):1760–9.

    •Rasmussen S. Safety of maternal Tdap vaccination for mother and fetus presented to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), Atlanta, GA; June 22, 2011.

    •Schofield FD, Tucker VM, Westbrook GR. Neonatal tetanus in New Guinea. Effect of active immunization in pregnancy. Br Med J. 1961;2:785–9.

    •Silveria CM, Caceres VM, Dutra MG, Lopes-Camelo J, Castilla EE. Safety of tetanus toxoid in pregnant women: a hospital-based case-control study of congenital anomalies. Bull World Health Organ. 1995;73:605–8.

    •Shakib JH, Korgenski K, Sheng X, Varner MW, Pavia AT, Byington CL. Tetanus, diphtheria, acellular pertussis vaccine during pregnancy: pregnancy and infant health outcomes. J Pediat. 2013; 163(5):1422–26.

    •Zheteyeva YA, Moro PL, Tepper NK, et al. Adverse event reports after tetanus toxoid, reduced diphtheria toxoid, and acellular pertussis vaccines in pregnant women . Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2012;207(1):59.e1–7.

  21. padma says:

    Great post.
    Children tend to have a less strong immune system compared to the adults and that is one of the reasons they get affected by certain elements in growing up years. Of these, some respiratory ailments can prove to be quite menacing. One of these is whooping cough.

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