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Why is the Tdap Vaccine Recommended During Pregnancy?

Amanda Magrini's daughter was born with the protection of a Tdap vaccine thanks to Amanda receiving the vaccine in her third trimester.
Amanda Magrini’s daughter was born with the protection of a Tdap vaccine thanks to Amanda receiving the vaccine in her third trimester.

I try to avoid controversy and conflict when I can, so a quick disclaimer- I am not writing this to argue with anti-vaxers, I am just getting some information out there for people who are interested in why doctors recommend Tdap in pregnancy and who it protects.

First of all, what is the Tdap vaccine? It offers protection against 3 illnesses- tetanus- aka “lockjaw”, diphtheria- a serious infection of the nose/throat that can cause heart damage, and pertussis- aka whooping cough. I am focusing on pertussis here because that is what we still see a lot of across the U.S. due to how highly contagious it is and gaps in vaccine coverage.

The Tdap vaccination was developed because it was recognized that the pertussis immunization we give in childhood- the “acellular” form- Dtap, didn’t create lifelong antibodies as was originally thought, so adolescents and adults needed a booster to further protect them from infection.

So why do pregnant women get one of these with each pregnancy? I promise it’s not just our attempt to make your arm sore! I’ve had 2 Tdap vaccines in the last 8 years between the required vaccination for medical school and having my baby girl, so I understand! The most susceptible group to severe pertussis infection and death are infants under 3 months, and we don’t start immunizations until 2 months, so there is a window of time they are unprotected. When given to pregnant women between 26-37 weeks, the antibodies that mom makes to pertussis are available to newborns and help protect them if exposed to pertussis before vaccines are administered. We also strongly encourage all family members who will be in contact with the baby to receive a Tdap as well, to “cocoon” the infant from potential exposure.  I sent my mom, my 10 month olds’ primary caregiver, to her doctor to get her Tdap before watching my daughter for this very reason! And my husband received his Tdap in our OB’s office when I did as well.

Why do we care? Isn’t pertussis just a bad cough? No, not exactly. Per the CDC, half of infants that develop pertussis under age 1 end up requiring hospitalization, and of those, 1 in 4 develop pneumonia and 1-2 per 100 will die. Scary stats.

So my point is – regardless of your position on vaccinating your child, please consider accepting a Tdap in your third trimester of pregnancy to protect your little angel. It’s worth the pain in the arm.

About Amanda Magrini

Amanda Magrini
Amanda Magrini, MD, is a board-certified family medicine physician at Northern Nevada Medical Group’s Los Altos location in Sparks. She completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Nevada, Reno and her medical training at the University of Nevada School of Medicine. Dr. Magrini has practiced family medicine for seven years, including residency, and enjoys her specialty, because she likes taking care of the whole family, from newborns to grandparents. She likes preventative medicine, helping people take care of themselves and the relationships she is able to form with her patients. Dr. Magrini grew up in Sparks, NV and likes that it is a safe place to live with great educational opportunities and beautiful scenery. She thinks Northern Nevada is a great place to raise a family and looks forward to raising her own children here. In her spare time, she enjoys outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, camping, boating, running and traveling the world. Dr. Magrini is also very close with her family; she is married to her high school sweetheart and values spending time with him and the rest of her family. Disclosure: "The author is a licensed physician practicing with Northern Nevada Medical Group, but all opinions expressed are solely the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Northern Nevada Medical Group or any other affiliates of Universal Health Services, Inc."

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