All new parents struggle with keeping their newborns protected from germs.
You ask people to wash hands before they touch the baby. You keep the baby swaddled. You stay far away from anyone who is sick.
But a Centers for Disease Control advisory panel's suggestions take these precautions to a whole new level. To protect babies under 12 months from whooping cough (pertussis), the CDC panel recommends that any adults and teens who come “in close contact” with newborns should be vaccinated with a Tdap booster shot.
The idea is to create a “cocoon of protection” around the infant.
Does that mean you need to ask Grandma and Grandpa, and cousin Barbara, and your teen-aged son, and your next door neighbor to get a shot before snuggling with the baby? In a word: yes.
“Anyone who’s going to be holding the baby/cooing over the baby” is considered a close contact, says CDC spokesperson Alison Patti.
Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of the Department of Preventative Medicine at Vanderbilt Medical school, says the precautions are absolutely necessary, considering that in about 75 percent of baby whooping cough cases, family members or caregivers are the ones who pass the sickness on to the baby. He cites recent outbreaks, such as the 10,000 cases in California that resulted in 10 infant deaths last year, as reason enough for worry.
“The circle can get large,” Schaffner said. “Start with family and expand out to neighbors. We want them all to get vaccinated.”
Infants younger than 6 months are most at risk of dying from pertussis and aren’t completely protected until the end of their first year.
Schaffner explains that even if you’re up to date with tetanus shots, or have had one recently, you can still safely get the Tdap booster shot, which is the only vaccination that protects you from pertussis. (Young kids should already be getting Tdap as part of their routine vaccinations.) And you should get the shot at least two weeks before beginning close contact with the infant.
Sure, the idea of telling your relative/daycare provider/neighbor, “Hey, I’d love it if you could babysit, but can you get a shot first?” is bound to feel awkward. (Asking them to use Purell? Way easier.)
So how do you even get the conversation started? Jill Ellis, a mom of two from Snohomish, Wash., thinks it’s best to make your family and friends feel like they are doing you a favor.
“I would ask them, ‘Would you be open to consider getting it, since the CDC is suggesting it?’,” says Ellis, a former nurse. She’d follow with details on why it’s so important and also tell them where they need to go to get the shot.
Ellis says grandparents may be the most difficult to convince. “I know from experience, they would say something like, ‘Oh Jill, that’s so overboard. I’m not going to get whooping cough.’”
But that’s when you tell them how much you’d appreciate it, says Ellis. “You say, ‘Can you do this? For me?’"
Schaffner suggests laying out the medical side of your argument.
First, he says, “You remind everyone that there has been an increase in whopping cough around the country.”
“The second piece of information: Whopping cough can be a devastating illness,” Schaffner says. “And the third fact: Most of those babies who get sick get it from someone who loves that baby and has had contact.”
“We can prevent getting this baby sick by getting vaccinated. And who doesn’t want to protect the baby?” Schaffner says. “It’s safe. It’s effective. It’s easy. Just do it.”
What do you think? Will you ask your baby's "inner circle" to get a shot to prevent pertussis? Do you think it will be a hard conversation to have?