It’s that time of year when we should think about the grandparents’ vaccines before they meet and hold newborns. And also these vaccines protect them against their anti-vaccine relatives and friends!
In a recent press briefing, Dr. Anne Schuchat, the Principle Deputy Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stated that “there are two vaccines grandparents need prior to contacting the newest family member.” Those grandparent’s vaccines are for whooping cough (pertussis) and seasonal flu.
This article will review Dr. Schuchat’s recommendations for grandparents before they meet the new baby during this holiday season. And remember, these vaccines protect both your grandmother and your baby.
The CDC recommends that family members, including the grandparents, create a “circle of protection” around the newborn. The CDC refers to this circle as a “cocooning or Cocoon Strategy.”
Essentially, it is a vaccination strategy to protect infants and other vulnerable individuals from infectious pathogens by vaccinating those in close contact with them. Its foundation is that if the people most likely to transmit a pathogen are immune to it, then that immunity creates a “cocoon” of protection around newborns or other vulnerable individuals.
According to the CDC:
Newborn babies do not have fully developed immune systems, making them particularly vulnerable to infections. When a baby’s family members and caregivers get vaccinated, they help form a “cocoon” of disease protection around the baby.
Anyone who is around babies should be up-to-date on all routine vaccines, including the whooping cough vaccine. During flu season, everyone should get a flu vaccine in order to surround the baby with protection.
Parents, brothers and sisters, grandparents, babysitters, and other caregivers can all help prevent the spread of disease by getting vaccinated.
Despite the claims of anti-vaxxers (and, sadly, some non-science pro-vaxxers), this strategy has been supported by peer-reviewed scientific articles in the highly-ranked journal, Vaccine.
Unfortunately, according to Dr. Schuchat, during the 2017-18 flu season, only 49.1% of pregnant women received the seasonal flu vaccine. And only 54.4% of women received the Tdap (for tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis) vaccine during pregnancy.
Worse yet, only 32.8% of pregnant women received both.
Grandparents’ vaccines – whooping cough
Whooping cough is caused by the Bordatella pertussis bacteria, a highly contagious infection that can be deadly for babies, especially those who are younger than 2 months.
During 2018, the CDC reported over 1,100 pertussis-related cases in infants under 6 months of age in the USA.
Because whooping cough is so dangerous, the CDC has recommended that pregnant women have this vaccine during pregnancy early in the 3rd trimester. That way the antibodies produced in the mother from the vaccine can pass to the developing fetus protect the baby for a few months before they themselves get the pertussis vaccine.
I want to cover some of the science that supports this recommendation from the CDC:
- Anti-vaccine activists love to claim that the mother passes along their immunity to the baby. However, that’s not quite how it works. The mother does not create a permanent immunity to pertussis in the child, that’s not how the adaptive immune system works. The antibodies circulating in the mother’s blood are passed to the baby, but it’s only short term protection.
- Even if the pregnant mother has had whooping cough or the pertussis vaccine, the blood levels of the anti-pertussis antibodies are low in the mother. This is why the CDC recommends the vaccine to “boost” the levels of these antibodies so that they will be transferred to the baby.
Because whooping cough symptoms usually take up to 5-10 days (but sometimes up to 3 weeks), individuals can pose a danger to babies before they themselves exhibit symptoms of pertussis.
This is why one of your grandparents’ vaccines ought to be the Tdap vaccine. More than that, everyone in contact with a newborn ought to have the vaccine.
Grandparents’ vaccines – influenza
Like with whooping, the flu is dangerous for newborns. Firstly, infants are one of the highest risk groups for complications, including death, from the virus. As of 8 December 2019, six children have died from the flu in the USA during the 2019-20 flu season (compared to 143 during 2018-19).
Secondly, adults with flu can infect other people a day or two prior to becoming symptomatic. Of course, they are also infectious for 5-7 days after developing symptoms. What this means is that it sometimes isn’t easy to determine if someone can pass the flu to a newborn.
Thirdly, babies should not be vaccinated against the flu until they are six months of age. Moreover, it’s a two-shot vaccine, so they will not be totally protected until they are approximately 7 months old.
Importantly, the flu vaccine is also very important to your grandparents themselves – they are another group that is at high risk of complications from the flu.
Vaccines protect babies
I know that we constantly state that vaccines save lives, especially infants. But there are vaccines, like for the flu and whooping cough, that cannot be given to the youngest babies. So, we need to protect them through grandparents’ vaccines.
Actually, everyone, grandparents, caregivers, parents, siblings, close friends, and just about anyone else who will come in contact with your babies need whooping cough and flu vaccines.
So this article really wasn’t just about your grandparents, it’s about that cocoon around your baby. Please make sure that your babies are protected from these dangerous, often deadly diseases.
- Rowe SL, Tay EL, Franklin LJ, Stephens N, Ware RS, Kaczmarek MC, Lester RA, Lambert SB. Effectiveness of parental cocooning as a vaccination strategy to prevent pertussis infection in infants: A case-control study. Vaccine. 2018 Apr 5;36(15):2012-2019. doi: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2018.02.094. Epub 2018 Mar 7. PubMed PMID: 29525284.
- Saul N, Wang K, Bag S, Baldwin H, Alexander K, Chandra M, Thomas J, Quinn H, Sheppeard V, Conaty S. Effectiveness of maternal pertussis vaccination in preventing infection and disease in infants: The NSW Public Health Network case-control study. Vaccine. 2018 Mar 27;36(14):1887-1892. doi: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2018.02.047. Epub 2018 Mar 1. PubMed PMID: 29501321.
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