SWIFTWATER, Pa. — As health departments across the country report record numbers of pertussis cases, the results of a new survey of American adults released today reveal that most parents aren't asking adults close to their infants and young children to get an adult whooping cough booster vaccine, even though they do ask them to follow other basic precautions to safeguard their children's health.
The survey was conducted online in May 2012 by Harris Interactive on behalf of the Sounds of Pertussis Campaign, a joint initiative from Sanofi Pasteur and March of Dimes.
The results spotlight that most parents are skipping a critical preventive health step for themselves and their babies, and it's not because they don't think it's important. A large majority of parents with children ages 2 years and younger (83%) believe that vaccination is important for adults in contact with infants and young children to help protect against the spread of pertussis. Yet only 19% reported asking friends and family in close contact with their child to get an adult pertussis vaccination. Although 90% agreed that the health of family/friends/caregivers is an important consideration in order to keep their children healthy and safe, 45% estimated that fewer than half of the adults who come into close contact with their children had received an adult pertussis vaccination, and 26% weren't sure if anyone had been vaccinated.
Only about 10% of adults have reported receiving an adult pertussis (Tdap) vaccine, according to statistics collected by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
So, while parents should be proactive about knowing the pertussis vaccination status of those in contact with their infants, and asking them to get a booster if they haven't already, making that simple request makes many parents uncomfortable, according to the survey. More than half (61%) of parents with children ages 2 years and younger said they would feel awkward asking a family member/caregiver to get an adult pertussis vaccine.
"This survey shows we've come a long way in raising awareness of the importance of adult pertussis vaccination, yet too many parents still aren't taking crucial steps to help protect their babies against the dangers of pertussis in the same way they proactively shield them from other serious dangers," stated NASCAR's Jeff Gordon, who — along with his wife, model Ingrid Vandebosch — is a representative for the Sounds of Pertussis Campaign. "As parents of two, Ingrid and I asked our friends and family to join us in getting an adult pertussis vaccine to help protect our kids against the disease, and we are urging others across the country to do the same."
The survey also looked at how influential family members and healthcare professionals can be in encouraging adults to get a pertussis booster. Among adults who haven't been vaccinated and don't have children at home, but who have been in contact with infants younger than 2 years of age in the past five years or expect to be in the next year, nearly half (45%) would consider getting an adult Tdap booster vaccine if a family member asked, and an even greater number, 83% would consider getting one if they were asked by their doctor or other healthcare professional.
Immunity from childhood pertussis vaccinations wears off after about five to 10 years, so even adults immunized as children may no longer be protected and should have an adult Tdap booster, especially if they will be in contact with babies.
Pertussis, more commonly known as whooping cough, is a highly contagious, vaccine-preventable disease that is spread through the air by infectious respiratory droplets. It is caused by a bacterium called Bordetella pertussis, which is found in the mouth, nose and throat of the person infected with the disease. The milder form of the disease, which usually occurs in adults and older children, is often mistaken for the common cold or bronchitis and can be easily spread. The disease is usually more severe in babies and young children, who will often experience severe coughing that can be followed by a "whooping" sound as they gasp for air. Oftentimes, coughing episodes can be so intense that vomiting follows.
Pertussis also can lead to other serious complications, such as pneumonia, hospitalization and even death. In recent years, about 92% of pertussis deaths have occurred in infants younger than 12 months of age.
Across the United States, 8,159 provisional pertussis cases have been reported to the CDC as of May 5, 2012, representing an 87% increase compared to the same time period in 2011. Pertussis cases reached epidemic levels in Washington state this year, and cases are trending high in Arizona, Colorado, Indiana, Ohio, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin.