August 06, 2015
Area(s) of Interest: Infectious Diseases Public Health Vaccination
The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) recently warned about the ongoing danger of pertussis (whooping cough). According to state public health officials, pertussis continues to spread at above-normal levels in California following last year's epidemic, when reported disease rates were the highest they've been since the 1950s. Pertussis can cause serious and sometimes life-threatening complications in infants, especially within the first six months of life. The disease has already caused one infant death and at least 126 infant hospitalizations in California this year.
Physicians are reminded that the best way to protect infants against fatal or severe pertussis infection is to vaccinate pregnant women with Tdap during every pregnancy. Vaccinated pregnant women develop antibodies to pertussis that are passed onto the fetus and may protect young infants until they are old enough to be vaccinated at 6 weeks of age. To maximize the maternal antibody response and passive antibody transfer to the infant, optimal timing for Tdap administration is between 27 and 36 weeks of gestation. In addition to providing pertussis antibodies to the infant, the mother herself will be protected and less likely to become infected and transmit pertussis to her infant.
“Vaccinated mothers pass protective antibodies to their infants during pregnancy,” said CDPH Director and State Health Officer Karen Smith, M.D. “Right now, it’s estimated that fewer than half of all pregnant women in California are vaccinated against whooping cough. We need to increase that number to help improve the health of our children and of our communities.”
Vaccination during pregnancy is highly preferred over postpartum vaccination. However, if a woman is not vaccinated prior to giving birth, it is recommended that she receive the vaccine before hospital discharge (breastfeeding is not a contraindication).
Other family members and close contacts of infants who have not received Tdap should be vaccinated at least two weeks prior to any contact with the infant.
It is recommended that babies get their first dose of the pertussis vaccine at 2 months of age, and should have three doses by the time they are 6 months old. Children should also receive a booster shot in their second year, before kindergarten and at 11-12 years of age. CDPH also reminds parents that Tdap vaccination is a requirement for advancement into the seventh grade.
Adults and teens who never received a vaccine during their preteen years are also encouraged to get vaccinated.
For more information and guidelines on pertussis vaccination, see the CDPH website.