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Less Than Half of All Pregnant Women Receive The Whooping Cough Vaccine

Despite the fact it prevents 78 percent of newborn cases

12 OCT 2017

If a Tdap vaccination is given in the third trimester of pregnancy, it can safely prevent whooping cough from developing in a newborn, but less than half of pregnant women are receiving the shot, a new study reveals.


Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a bacterial, respiratory infection that causes uncontrollable, violent coughing. The infection is highly contagious and can be life-threatening for newborn babies, whose immune systems are still not yet fully developed.

CDC regulations stipulate that newborns cannot receive the whooping cough vaccine until they are two months old, which means for the first few months of life, children rely solely on their mother's antibodies to protect themselves from contracting the disease. Therefore, it is crucial that a mother receives the whooping cough vaccine while pregnant so they may transfer the greatest amount of antibodies to their child.

Nevertheless, a new study found that only 49 percent of pregnant women received the vaccine between the fall of 2015 and the spring of 2016.

The study was conducted by researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who analyzed data from six states between the years 2011–2014, focusing on babies younger than 2 months. The research confirmed that Tdap vaccinations in the third trimester of pregnancy can prevent 78 percent of whooping cough cases. Plus, they found vaccinations during the third trimester are 90 percent effective in preventing serious cases that require hospitalization.


"Women have such a great opportunity to help protect their babies before they enter the world by getting Tdap vaccine while pregnant," said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

"This study highlights how babies can benefit when their mothers get the vaccine, and reinforces CDC's recommendation for women to get Tdap vaccine in the third trimester of each pregnancy," she added in an agency news release.

Since 2010, the CDC has seen between 10,000 and 50,000 cases of whooping cough each year in the U.S, and up to 20 babies die from it each year. In most cases, these infants were too young to get their own shot, the CDC researchers said.

If a baby contracts whooping cough at such a vulnerable age, the risk of complications and hospitalization is much higher. In fact, this study found that two-thirds of babies that were younger than 2 months when they contracted whooping cough required hospital treatment.

But if a newborn contracts whooping cough, and their mother received the Tdap vaccination during pregnancy, the infection will be far less serious. A study in California, which looked at the type and length of hospital stays for babies with whooping cough, found that babies whose mothers received Tdap had shorter hospital stays and were less likely to need care in the ICU.

"There are currently no whooping cough vaccines recommended for newborns at birth, so we recommend that all of our pregnant patients and those around the baby get the vaccination," said Dr. Wagner, who also is an assistant professor at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.

"The vaccination is the best way to prevent whooping cough in the baby and reduces the risk of infant hospitalizations and deaths from this disease."