Texas Physicians Urge Governor to Protect Babies


For Immediate Release 
June 7, 2011


Contact: Pam Udall
phone: (512) 370-1382
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Brent Annear
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Texas Medical Association (TMA) physicians are calling on Gov. Rick Perry to sign new legislation aimed at protecting the tiniest among us from a deadly disease.

Texas House Bill 3336 by Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) would require that mothers of newborns receive information on pertussis before leaving the hospital, including the recommendation that they get the tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (Tdap) vaccine just after the baby is born.

“It is important to educate mothers about receiving the pertussis booster vaccine before they leave the hospital after birth because their newborns are the ones who are most at risk of this disease,” says Charleta Guillory, MD, FAAP, a member of TMA’s Committee on Maternal and Perinatal Health. Some of her newborn patients have gotten sick from pertussis.

“We must increase awareness that whooping cough is quite dangerous for infants,” says Donald Murphey, MD, member of TMA’s Committee on Infectious Diseases, and a TMA Be Wise—ImmunizeSM advocate. “Some of the infants who catch pertussis end up getting very sick and needing respirators and intensive care. Some infants even die.”

Pertussis is commonly called whooping cough because of the distinctive “whoop” gasping sound an infected patient makes when he or she coughs. Newborns are most vulnerable to the disease because they cannot be vaccinated against it: They can’t receive the vaccine until they are two months old and are not fully protected until they receive multiple doses ― usually when they reach 15 to 18 months of age. Physicians say parents can protect their baby by ensuring the people nearest him or her are vaccinated against the preventable disease.

“Patient education is critical to eliminating the spread of whooping cough. Once people find out how serious pertussis can be and how effective the Tdap vaccine is, they’re willing to be immunized,” Dr. Murphey says.

Pertussis can strike anyone, but the most severe complications are among infants. In adolescents and adults it is generally a mild disease that is not life-threatening.

Close to 17,000 people suffered from whooping cough in 2009, and 3,000 cases occurred in Texas. Fourteen infants died from the disease that year. Early estimates for 2010 are worse: More than 21,000 cases and 26 deaths from pertussis were reported nationwide  ― 22 of these deaths were in children younger than 1 year old. Seventy-five percent of the infants who get pertussis contract it from someone in their household, and in more than half of the child pertussis cases, a newborn’s mother or sibling unwittingly infected them. “Two-thirds of these infants are hospitalized and are at risk for complications, such as pneumonia, seizures, encephalopathy, and death,” Dr. Guillory says, adding that victims who die from pertussis are very often younger than three months old.

“This new legislation will help teach new parents about how the vaccination can help them protect their babies,” says Dr. Murphey.

For the past two years, TMA has been giving out a pertussis prevention fact sheet (PDF) and working with local counties to increase pertussis vaccinations. In late 2009, TMA sponsored a seminar on cocooning for physicians and nurses at a Round Rock hospital north of Austin. The idea was to teach new mothers about the importance of protecting their vulnerable newborn from pertussis, before they leave the hospital ― similar to what the new bill aims to do. Along with the seminar, TMA created a video of the cocooning program as a teaching tool for physicians. TMA has long been a vaccine advocate, sponsoring Be Wise – Immunize, an ongoing public health initiative to vaccinate and educate people that vaccines are important, safe, and effective.

“The only way to stop pertussis’ growth is for adults to get the Tdap vaccine,” says Dr. Murphey. “Get the shot and shield yourself from getting sick, and maybe protect an infant from a much worse fate.”

Physicians are urging Governor Perry to sign the bill into law. It calls for hospitals, physicians, and other medical professionals to provide parents of newborns with a pamphlet teaching them about pertussis vaccination. It also seeks to educate parents about other subjects including child immunization schedules, newborn screening schedules, information to prevent shaken baby syndrome and sudden infant death syndrome, and resources to cope with postpartum depression.

TMA actively works to improve immunization rates in Texas through its Be Wise — Immunize program. Be Wise works with local communities to give free and low-cost shots to Texas children and adolescents, and educate people about the importance of vaccination. TMA is the largest state medical society in the nation, representing more than 45,000 physician and medical student members. It is located in Austin and has 120 component county medical societies around the state. TMA’s key objective since 1853 is to improve the health of all Texans. TMA’s Be Wise — Immunize program is funded by the TMA Foundation, TMA’s philanthropic arm.

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Be Wise — Immunize is a service mark of the Texas Medical Association.