Remind Families to Vaccinate Against Pertussis, Flu as Holidays Approach

As families reunite this holiday season, perhaps for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Texas Medical Association leaders say it’s time to remind them that infants need protection, too, from a public health threat that long predates the coronavirus: pertussis, or whooping cough.

Because babies are too young to get vaccinated against the disease, “in most cases, infants catch pertussis from a family member or caregiver whose symptoms were so mild they didn’t know they had the illness,” said C. Mary Healy, MD, of Houston, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist and member of TMA’s Council on Science and Public Health. Cocooning, or vaccinating all of the newborn’s family members and those who will come in contact with the baby, “provides the best protection,” she said.

Whooping cough is especially dangerous for infants younger than 1 year of age. The Texas Department of State Health Services says more than half of babies under age 1 who get pertussis must be hospitalized. Many will have serious complications, like pneumonia, which can be life-threatening. In babies and young children, violent coughing from pertussis also can cause convulsions or brain damage.

As a reminder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: 

  • The Tdap vaccination is recommended for adolescents and adults – including parents, siblings, and grandparents – who will have contact with the infant.
  • For best protection, the vaccine should be administered to family members at least two weeks before they have contact with the baby. That means family members still have time before holiday gatherings to get the shot to protect the baby.
  • A pertussis vaccination is recommended for pregnant women during their third trimester, which is when the father and other household family members should get the shot too.

TMA leaders also urge physicians to remind families to get vaccinated against flu. Physicians are concerned about the spread of flu this year because, unlike last year, fewer people are wearing masks, making people more susceptible to exposure. That includes babies who cannot get vaccinated until they are at least 6 months old. 

Turn to TMA’s Vaccines Defend What Matters initiative for educational materials to help you talk to your patients about the importance of vaccinations.

Last Updated On

November 16, 2021

Originally Published On

November 16, 2021