LETHBRIDGE - Any woman who is currently pregnant ,or will be giving birth soon in the South Health Zone, should get a Pertussis/whooping cough vaccine, regardless of whether they have had one in the past. That's according to Alberta Health Service's Dr. Lena Derie-Gillespie.
Derie-Gillespie says some women may be fearful because the illness has spread to more than 500 people, with 223 of them currently linked to an outbreak in the Fort Macleod, Coaldale, Lethbridge and surrounding areas.
"Newborn infants are our most risky little citizens for Pertussis, infants under one year of age. We really do want to protect them."
Derie-Gillespie says vaccinations for babies don't begin until they are two months old, and so there are a number of things pregnant women and families can do, to limit their exposure to the potentially-deadly illness.
"We're recommending the immunization for women in their third trimester because of how much Pertussis disease we're seeing in our zone. That means they can take the vaccine anytime in the third trimester....right up until the day that the baby's born or immediately after, because yes, it takes a couple of weeks for those antibodies to develop.
"Another thing... is not having people who are sick, visit newborn infants. Pertussis might not always be as obvious as a whooping cough right off the bat. So people who are sick, sniffly, runny nose, little mild cough, should not be visiting newborn infants."
She explains it's important to understand there are many people in the community that are not vaccinated, and those people are going to be at higher risk of contracting whooping cough, and in turn, at higher risk for spreading the disease in the community and to newborns.
"You're the parent. You're the one who has the most responsibility, and the one who would do anything to protect that baby. And so, you do what you feel is best to protect those babies. If you choose to restrict visitors to your infant, you're not doing it because you don't care about them, you're doing it because you do care about your infant. I think it's well within parent's rights to say 'no.' "
And that goes for people who aren't immunized.
"I think it's within parent's rights to say 'no. you're not immunized? Well then you don't come visit my baby.' Because we know those people are at more risk. It might sound harsh, but there's consequences to choosing not to vaccinate. It's the family member's right to protect their infant."
Derie-Gillespie admits the vaccine is not 100 per cent effective, but hovers between 80 and 90 per cent, depending on when the person was last immunized. But she says it's better than not having someone vaccinated at all.
As for whether the Pertussis vaccine could potentially harm the mother or baby?
"Whenever we're talking about a pregnant woman, we take those patients very, very seriously," she emphasizes. "Everything in pregnancy is a risk-benefit calculation. We've been giving Pertussis vaccinations for a long time, and we feel this is a safe vaccine. In the current situation, the benefit to babies far outweighs even any minor risks to the mom or the baby."
Derie-Gillespie says generally, if an older person gets whooping cough, it's unpleasant and very uncomfortable. But a small baby is at a much higher risk of serious complications, and that can include death.
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