This week, health officials in Alberta announced that all pregnant women in the province are now eligible to receive a free vaccine that protects their unborn child again whooping cough. Prior to that, pregnant women were encouraged to only get vaccinated against whooping cough once, which would need to cover all future pregnancies. The vaccine - called dTap - also came at an out-of-pocket cost, which was not covered by provincial health insurance.
Now, women are being urged to get the vaccine for each pregnancy. In fact, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommends this for all pregnant women.
"[This] will hopefully eliminate the [whooping cough] cases that we see in infants," said deputy medical officer of health Dr. Kristin Klein.
According to Dr. Klein, a total of 61 infants under the age of two months have contracted whooping cough in the last decade, and three have died from the illness itself. Very young babies are particularly at risk of developing serious complications which can include an extreme cough that stops them from breathing. They also become susceptible to pneumonia.
Unfortunately, newborns aren't eligible to receive the vaccine until they are two months old, leaving them vulnerable during that short period of time. However, if the mother was vaccinated during her pregnancy, the antibodies from the vaccine would have made their way to the fetus and once the baby is born, they would be a little more armed against the illness.
"This extra dose in pregnancy is to ensure optimal protection for infants right after birth, which is a really sensitive and vulnerable time," said Dr. Klein.
She added that the whooping cough vaccine is one of those vaccines that needs to be given multiple times throughout a child's life in order to be fully vaccinated. After the two-month vaccine, there are five more boosters needed until the child reaches the ninth grade.
Parents should take note that there is a small window in which to receive the vaccine during pregnancy. To ensure that the antibodies are properly transferred to the infant upon birth, women are urged to get the shot between 27 and 32 weeks gestation, even if they have received it for previous pregnancies.
News of this free vaccine comes just two short years after Alberta experienced a whooping cough outbreak in the south and central parts of the province. Fortunately, most of the children affected were in the school-age population.