April 16th-23rd, 2016 is National Infant Immunization Week, the CDC’s national celebration of the safe, healthy start vaccines give babies. But you don’t need to have a baby (or even know a baby!) to do your part. When you are fully vaccinated, you help protect Maine’s little ones from dangerous, life-threatening diseases. And as one Maine mother’s story shows us, that’s a big deal.
Even when parents carefully follow the CDC’s recommended vaccine schedule, they need help from their family, friends and neighbors to keep their children healthy. Infants can’t get all the vaccines they need immediately after birth. As their bodies grow, they rely on the immunity of the children and adults around them to keep infections away. When everyone who can get vaccinated is vaccinated, dangerous diseases can’t spread easily in our community. It’s powerful protection, and it’s called herd immunity. Like buffalo circling around their young when wolves are on the prowl, high herd immunity prevents outbreaks and keeps diseases like pertussis, influenza, measles and more away from small children.
When there are holes in that herd immunity, our most vulnerable community members can get hurt. Babies haven’t yet completed all the recommended doses of the critical DTaP vaccine. This means they are not fully vaccinated against pertussis, or whooping cough—a serious illness making a real recurrence in Maine. Pertussis is highly contagious, and because its early symptoms can mimic a cold, infected people spread it without knowing. Most infants acquire pertussis from a well meaning adult who is unaware that they have it. People like Luanne and her husband, first-time parents of an infant son living in southern Maine.
For more, see Scarborough physician Dr. Erin Dawson-Chalat’s guide, “How to Protect Your Child from Whooping Cough”
“My husband had a terrible, hacking cough that just went on and on,” Luanne remembers. “Then I got sick, and our new baby began coughing, too. Sure enough, when we went to our doctor, we all tested positive for pertussis.”
“It was so scary,” Luanne says. “I had no experience caring for a sick baby. He was put on a nebulizer treatment for five months, several times a day. And it still took forever for the cough to go away.”
Whooping cough takes a long time to recover from—it is sometimes called ‘the 100-Day cough.’ And the coughing spells it causes can be so violent and go on so long that it can cause a baby to stop breathing and turn blue. For loving, brand-new parents like Luanne and her husband, these coughing spells were agonizing to witness.
“We had to remain calm, as any stimulation would make his coughing worse,” Luanne explains. “But it would still go on and on and on. He would only stop because his little, seven-pound body had no more energy. We thought we were going to lose him several times due to his extreme fatigue and exhaustion.”
Luckily, Luanne’s son did recover, but pertussis still impacted his life and care. “We struggled to find a daycare that would take him, even though he was no longer contagious,” Luanne recalls. “We had to hire a nanny to care for him and administer his daily lung treatments.”
In fact, their son is still dealing with the long-term effects of pertussis. “He’s 25 years old today, and he has severe asthma and breathing issues due to the scarring in his lungs,” Luanne explains. “And the most frustrating thing is that it was all preventable.”
Luanne hopes her story will help expectant and new parents realize the importance of following the CDC’s immunization recommendations. “I do everything I can to share how scary it is to possibly lose your child because you, or your child, isn’t vaccinated,” she says passionately. “Pertussis came into our home before our son could be fully vaccinated. I encourage new parents to be careful about making sure the people around their baby are vaccinated.”
Remind the adults around your children that Grown-Ups Need Shots Too!
“There are so many things in life that you, as a parent, have no control over,” Luanne explains. “Vaccinating is clearly one thing that you DO have control over. These diseases are much more of a risk than any vaccine. I hope parents base their decision on the facts from credible sources.”