November 26, 2013

Thomas A. Clark, MD, MPH
Tom Clark CDC

Dr. Thomas A. Clark, CDC

Special thanks to Thomas A. Clark, MD, MPH acting branch chief in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Meningitis and Vaccine Preventable Diseases Branch for this guest blog post on the importance of vaccination in preventing pertussis (whooping cough).

The holidays usually mean time surrounded by family and friends. As you prepare to enjoy the upcoming season with your loved ones around, it’s also important that you ensure the safety and health of your family members. Cases of whooping cough have been on the rise in the United States since the 1980s, especially in the past few years. The disease is highly contagious and can be life threatening for babies, especially within the first six months of their lives.

About half of infants under 12 months who get whooping cough are hospitalized, and when this occurs, one or two in 100 will die from the disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highly recommends a full circle of protection for babies in the form of vaccinations, and this holiday season is a good opportunity to make vaccination against whooping cough a priority.

Everyone has an important role to play in protecting babies from whooping cough, including parents, family members and healthcare professionals. There are three important actions to prevent whooping cough, and each action helps protect newborns and infants from this serious disease:

  1. Vaccination for pregnant women – CDC recommends that pregnant women receive the vaccine that prevents whooping cough (called Tdap) during each pregnancy – at 27 to 36 weeks – to protect both mother and child from the disease. When a woman gets the vaccine during one of her pregnancies, her antibody levels won’t stay high enough to provide enough protection for future pregnancies. That’s why it’s so important for pregnant women to get the vaccine during every pregnancy.  Getting Tdap will help ensure high levels of antibodies from the mother are given to each baby.
  2. Vaccination for babies – Vaccinating babies will help them build their own protection against the disease. For best protection, it’s important that they receive all five recommended doses of the whooping cough vaccine (called DTaP) at two months, four months, six months, and booster shots at 15-18 months and 4-6 years. Babies need to be vaccinated beginning at 2-months-old even if their mothers received the Tdap vaccine while pregnant.
  3. Vaccination for family members – Babies are most likely to catch whooping cough from someone at home. CDC recommends that anyone around babies be up to date with their whooping cough vaccine before coming in close contact with a newborn.

The holidays are fast approaching, and are a busy time for most, but we strongly urge everyone to make vaccination a priority. Make this holiday season a joyous one by surrounding your baby with protection from whooping cough. For more information, visit

Thomas A. Clark, MD, MPH, has worked at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for twelve years, including two years as an Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer. He currently serves as a medical epidemiologist and acting branch chief in the Meningitis and Vaccine Preventable Diseases Branch, where he works on meningococcal disease, pertussis, and other bacterial vaccine-preventable diseases both domestically and internationally.

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