Hurray for pregnant women and their doctors! At a time when much of the immunization news seems to be about people rejecting vaccines—and outbreaks caused by low vaccination rates—expectant mothers are trending in the opposite direction and thinking smart about protecting their babies.
Research has shown that newborn babies receive protection from whooping cough if their mothers get the Tdap booster vaccine during pregnancy, according to the CDC.
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that pregnant women receive the whooping cough vaccine for adolescents and adults (called Tdap vaccine) during the third trimester of each pregnancy,” the agency said in a statement. “The recommended time to get the shot is during your 27th through 36th week of pregnancy, preferably during the earlier part of this time period. This replaces the original recommendation that pregnant women get the vaccine only if they had not previously received it.”
And now a survey by the CDC shows that the recommendation appears to be working. Close to 49 percent of pregnant women are now receiving the vaccine, compared with just 27 percent in 2014. That’s an 81 percent increase in two years!
The timing of the vaccine is vital for babies’ protection because it takes a while for the mother’s antibodies to be passed on to the fetus, the CDC says.
“Your protective antibodies are at their highest about 2 weeks after getting the vaccine, but it takes time to pass them to your baby. So the preferred time to get the whooping cough vaccine is early in your third trimester,” the CDC says. “Whooping cough vaccination during pregnancy is ideal so your baby will have short-term protection as soon as he is born. This early protection is important because your baby will not start getting his whooping cough vaccines until he is 2 months old. These first few months of life are when your baby is at greatest risk for catching whooping cough. This is also when he’s at greatest risk for having severe, potentially life-threatening complications from the infection.“
About half of babies who get the disease before they’re 1 year old end up in the hospital with pneumonia or other serious complications, and, tragically, a few die.
The health agency also explained why the vaccination has to be repeated with each pregnancy:
“The amount of whooping cough antibodies in your body decreases over time. When you get the vaccine during one pregnancy, your antibody levels will not stay high enough to provide enough protection for future pregnancies.”
The big increase in vaccination after the 2012 CDC recommendation largely came from doctors who began offering the vaccination to their patients.
About 64 percent of the women surveyed by the CDC had been offered the Tdap vaccination by their doctors or another health care professional. Doctors recommended the vaccines, but didn’t offer it, to an additional 13 percent of patients, and 23 percent didn’t even get a recommendation. That made all the difference: Pregnant women whose doctors offered them the vaccine were twice as likely to get it as those whose doctors only recommended it, and 50 times more likely than women whose doctors didn’t mention it.
Despite the big increase in just a couple of years, there’s more work to be done. Slightly less than half of pregnant women are receiving this important vaccination. The study makes it clear that bringing more doctors on board, and encouraging them to actually offer the vaccine rather than just mention it, will be key to protecting more newborns in the future. This is the second week of National Immunization Awareness Month, and the news about pregnant women and Tdap shows us all that awareness by patients and doctors goes a long way toward improving immunization rates.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE:
Not just Zika. Pregnant women should protect themselves from flu, too.
The Vaccination Soundtrack
Seven Highlights of the CDC's 2017 Vaccination Guidelines