Infants are at risk of serious complications from both whooping cough and the flu. 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 exception, the 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 flu season. Also, 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 cannot get the flu vaccine and they have the highest risk for being hospitalized from flu compared to children of other ages. When your baby is 6 months old, she can get her own flu vaccine.
Whooping cough (or pertussis) is a very contagious disease that can be deadly for babies. It is 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. It is 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. They stop breathing and turn blue. About half of 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 they may have even had whooping cough, protection unfortunately wears off over time. That is why it is especially important for pregnant women, dads, and ANYONE else who will be in close contact with your baby, including grandparents, to make sure that their whooping cough (Tdap) vaccine is current.
Cocooning your baby
Grandparents and other visitors to your newborn should get the Tdap and flu vaccines at least 2 weeks before meeting your baby. This strategy of 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 plan on having contact with your baby. If they already received their Tdap vaccine as an adult, they do not need to be vaccinated again. (However, 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.
REMEMBER: Making sure that the people who will be in close contact with your baby are immunized is NOT a substitute for staying up to date with the childhood vaccination schedule. But it will help to your baby somewhat protected until she is old enough to get her own vaccines.