Infants are at risk of serious complications from both whooping cough and the flu. That’s why grandparents, caregivers and anyone who is going to be in contact with your baby should be up to date on their vaccinations for these two illnesses.
With rare exceptions, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that ALL people 6 months and older get an annual flu vaccine. Flu viruses change every year, so just because you got a flu shot last year doesn’t mean that you are protected this year. The flu shot is designed to protect against the flu viruses that are predicted to be the most common during the current flu season. Immunity from vaccination decreases after a year. This is why everyone needs a flu vaccine every season.
It is especially important that people who will be around children younger than 6 months get the flu shot. Children under 6 months have the highest risk of being hospitalized from flu compared with children of other ages but they cannot get the flu vaccine. However, once your baby is 6 months old, they can get their own flu vaccine.
Whooping cough (or pertussis) is a very contagious disease that can be deadly for babies. It’s spread from person to person, usually by coughing or sneezing while in close contact with others. In most cases of whooping cough, someone in the baby’s family is the source of infection. However, it’s possible for an adult to have whooping cough and not even know it.
Whooping cough can cause serious and sometimes life-threatening complications in babies, especially within the first 6 months of life. Many babies with whooping cough don’t cough at all. Instead, they stop breathing and turn blue. About half of all babies who get whooping cough end up in the hospital.
Your baby can’t get her first whooping cough vaccine until she is 2 months old. And while most adults were vaccinated as children or had whooping cough, the protection unfortunately wears off over time. That is why it’s especially important for pregnant women, their partners, grandparents and anyone else who will be in close contact with your baby has a current whooping cough (Tdap) vaccination.
Cocooning your baby
Grandparents and other visitors should get the Tdap and flu vaccines at least 2 weeks before meeting your baby. Surrounding babies with people who are protected against a disease such as whooping cough is called “cocooning.” A single Tdap shot is recommended for any adult (19 or older) who plans to have contact with your baby. If they already received their Tdap vaccine as an adult, they do not need to be vaccinated again. Pregnant women need to be vaccinated with Tdap during each pregnancy. And of course, everyone older than 6 months should get their flu shot before spending time with your baby.
A word about COVID-19
While most newborns who test positive for COVID-19 have mild or no symptoms and recover from the virus, the CDC says some babies have gotten severely ill from COVID-19. Older unvaccinated adults are more likely to be hospitalized or die from COVID-19. It’s recommended that everyone 5 years and older get a COVID-19 vaccination to help protect against COVID-19.
REMEMBER: Making sure that the people who will be in close contact with your baby are immunized is NOT a substitute for keeping your child’s vaccination schedule on track. But cocooning will help your baby be somewhat protected until they are old enough to get their own vaccines.