When I had my first baby 5 years ago there was a yellow sticker on the front of his health book that warned against Whooping Cough. I knew that Whooping Cough existed but I didn’t know how common or contagious it was. I was never offered the vaccine while pregnant and heard nothing about taking any extra measures to keep bub protected from the virus.
Skip forward to this pregnancy and it seems to be one of the main topics around fellow Pregnant Mums. Everyone seems to be getting the vaccine while pregnant but it seems to be a little unclear about what measures should be taken once baby arrives. Some Mums seem to plan on staying housebound for 6 weeks (until bub has their first whooping cough needle) while others seem a lot more relaxed.
I figured I can’t be the only one getting a little confused about this so I decided to ask an expert! I turned to Dr. Scott Dunlop of Sydney Pediatrics’s and he has kindly cleared up my confusion.
It is recommended that expectant Mothers get the whooping cough vaccine, when should they get it?
Usually in the 3rd trimester, from 28 weeks’ gestation.
What protection does the vaccine give the unborn baby?
The mother will produce antibodies to the vaccination which can then be passed on to the baby during the remainder of the pregnancy. This provides partial, not complete, protection to the newborn until their pertussis immunisation schedule commences at 6 weeks of age.
Other than the expectant Mother, who else do you suggests gets the Whooping Cough Vaccine?
Close adult family contacts who are likely to see the baby semi-regularly. This usually applies especially to grandparents, but also aunts/uncles, etc.
Tell us a bit more about Whooping Cough. How serious is it? Is it common?
Whooping cough is a bacterial infection caused by the organism Bordetella pertussis. It is generally transmitted via droplets in the air from one person’s respiratory tract to another. It classically causes prolonged coughing episodes, with the characteristic “whoop” at the end of each episode, although that is less common the older you get. Newborns, the elderly, and the immunocompromised are especially prone to the complications of whooping cough which include pneumonia and subsequent respiratory arrest. Whooping cough in its uncomplicated form is easily treated with oral antibiotics, but is highly contagious, so any individual who has contact with someone with whooping cough should be treated at the first sign of any respiratory symptoms.
As a new Mother and Baby should we avoid being around unvaccinated friends and family and for how long?
Failure to vaccinate your child is not only irresponsible to your child, but also to those in the community around you. I would recommend avoiding unvaccinated children for the first 6 months of life.
Some Mums are keeping Bub at home and avoiding public places until bub has had his first vaccine at 6 weeks. Is this going too far?
It is true that babies are not fully vaccinated until 6-12 months, but do have some protections from the mother during the pregnancy, especially if the mother has had a whooping cough booster antenatally. One should just be sensible – it’s nigh on impossible to stay hidden inside for 6 weeks without getting cabin fever, and is not good for mother’s mental health in my opinion. Just be cautious around those who are obviously unwell with respiratory illnesses in particular.
If you agree that we should be restricting contact between bub and anyone unvaccinated then do you have any suggestions on what a parent can say without offending them?
Unfortunately this can be very difficult. Parents who choose not to vaccinate their children tend to wear that as a badge of honour, treat it as their “right”, and don’t take well to be criticised for it. I think something along the lines of …”I’m really worried about my child becoming unwell from nasty infections, so for now I’m sorry but I think I’d better make sure our kids don’t get too close together just in case…”
Once Bub has had their first Whooping Cough vaccine at 6 weeks how protected are they?
I’m not entirely sure of the numbers. By the time the course is completed at 12 months, 90% of kids will be effectively protected. Therefore the 6 week number is less than that – I would guess about 60-70% or thereabouts.
When are they first fully vaccinated?
As above, by 12 months.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Whooping cough is a very real life-threatening infection. It should be treated with the utmost seriousness. Those who choose not to vaccinate have absolutely no basis in evidence for that stance and should be criticised for it. They place their child at unnecessary risk, and quite frankly, should bear the financial cost of treating their unvaccinated child if they become unwell with a preventable disease.