Each year during National Infant Immunization Week, the Franklin County Health Department highlights the benefits of routine vaccinations of our youngest community members.
A recent study published in the academic journal Pediatrics overwhelmingly confirms the value of routine childhood immunizations in preventing disease and death. Yet despite the success of routine childhood immunizations, a growing number of infants continue to be adversely affected by whooping cough, or pertussis.
This bacterial infection is known for severe and prolonged coughing spells that can lead to difficulty breathing, vomiting and disrupted sleep. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately half of infants who get pertussis are hospitalized. Complications include pneumonia and death.
Because pertussis may cause few symptoms and go unnoticed in adults, they can unknowingly pass the infection to infants, who are more likely to suffer severe symptoms and complications. In order to slow this trend, the CDC has recently reinforced national guidelines for preventing the spread of pertussis.
These strategies focus on adult and adolescent immunization in preventing pertussis in infants, creating a “circle of protection.” Since infants usually do not receive pertussis vaccination until two months of age, they are especially vulnerable to this disease during the first few months of life.
To better protect infants, immunization professionals recommend pregnant women receive one dose of tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis (Tdap) vaccine during every pregnancy, regardless of prior history of Tdap vaccination. According to the Vaccines for Children Program, the best time to receive this dose is during the third trimester, between 27 and 36 weeks gestation.
By being vaccinated before delivery, the mother will develop antibodies to pertussis, protecting herself from pertussis and reducing the possibility of passing the infection to her newborn. Additionally, third trimester vaccination allows the mother to pass pertussis antibodies to the fetus before delivery, which protects the infant from contracting the infection until he or she is old enough to be vaccinated.
While Tdap vaccination during pregnancy is greatly preferred over postpartum vaccination, women who did not receive a dose of the vaccine before delivery should receive it after giving birth, before leaving the hospital. Breastfeeding is not a contraindication to receiving Tdap.
Another measure for reducing pertussis in infants includes Tdap vaccination of all adult and adolescent family members and close contacts of infants who have not received Tdap, ideally at least two weeks prior to contact with the infant. Siblings, grandparents and baby sitters are examples of those who should be included in the circle of protection.
At FCHD, nurses and other public health professionals have increased efforts to explain the importance of these recommendations to all adults requesting health department services. The Tdap vaccination is available free or at very low cost to adults and adolescents, with the goal of making this vaccine accessible to all Franklin County residents and ultimately preventing the spread of pertussis.
In recognition of National Infant Immunization Week, adults are urged to make themselves part of the circle of protection around Franklin County’s infant population. To schedule your same day appointment for a Tdap vaccination, call 502-564-7647.
Leah Aubrey, RN, BSN, is a local health nurse II with the Franklin County Health Department, 100 Glenn’s Creek Road.