Importance of Pertussis Vaccine Hits Home for Hospital CEO

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Stormont-Vail HealthCare CEO Randy Peterson has a hospital filled with doctors who could tell him the dangers of the pertussis outbreak in recent years.

But it was the message from his daughter Megan in Manhattan, who is expecting her first child, that he heard most loud and clear.

"It was pretty much, 'If you want to see your new granddaughter you will get this vaccination!'" Peterson said.

Babies' bodies cannot respond to an immunization for the first two months of life, so health experts say it's up to others to provide that dose of protection.

Dr. Jo-Ann Harris, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Stormont, said anyone in the child's environment should be immunized. She says that will provide a protective cocoon around the baby until baby gets old enough to get vaccines.

Harris says any children in baby's environment should be up to date on their immunizations; any adult who'll be in contact should be sure they've had a booster; and the expectant mom should get the vaccine after 20 weeks of every pregnancy. Harris says the practice not only protects the mother, but she will pass some of the antibodies to the baby, which will offer protection for about two months without affecting how the baby will respond to his own immunizations later.

While pertussis is annoying for adults who get it, for babies, that tell-tale whoop in the cough can prove fatal. Harris says an infant will cough and they cry and cough and cry to the extent that he or she cannot breath correctly. She says the severity of the cough can cause them to burst blood vessels and even stop breathing altogether.

Peterson has double the reason to pay attention. He not only has daughter Megan and her husband Jeremy expecting a baby this fall, his other daughter Leslie and her husband Josh are also due around that same time. He says it makes the awareness he gained in his professional life now hit very much close to home.