Pertussis Vaccine Recommended for Pregnant Women

Pertussis, also known as whopping cough is a bacterial infection of the respiratory tract that causes severe coughing. The coughing makes it difficult to breathe, and a “whooping” sound is sometimes heard when an infant/child tries to breathe.

In light of the recent increased incidence of pertussis in the United States, in 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) approved recommendations for use of the vaccine that protects against pertussis be given to pregnant women. Preferably the vaccine is administered during the third trimester or late second trimester (after 20 weeks of gestation). Both the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Family Physicians support these recommendations.

The advantage to vaccinating pregnant women against pertussis is that they may pass the antibodies against the disease to the fetus so that it has some protection upon birth. Infants younger than 6 months are most at risk of dying from pertussis and receive vaccinations at the ages of 2, 4 and 6 months through the diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DtaP) series of shots. However some infants develop the condition before they receive their first shot at two months of age and can experience severe complications. More than half of infected infant require hospitalization.

Since pertussis is contagious, it can be passed from an adult or older sibling to the newborn. For this reason, family members and child-care providers who anticipate having close contact with an infant are also advised to be vaccinated (if they have not previously received the vaccine). Vaccinated family members provide additional protection to the newborn. 

If you are pregnant, please talk with your OB provider about obtaining the pertussis vaccine, known as Tdap (tetanus toxoid, reduced diphtheria toxoid and acellular pertussis). Encourage your family members and child care providers to also be vaccinated. Preferably the vaccine to family members is given at least two weeks before beginning close contact with the infant.

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