Back to School Boosters
Monday, August 04, 2014 - Campus News - Contact Theresa Green, (405) 833-9824
Levy Galmor with son Cullen and wife Devyn joined OU Physcians' Dr. Robert Welliver, an infectious disease expert, and Dr. Landon Lorenz, obstetrics and gynecology.
Parents of an Elk City toddler hospitalized as an infant with severe symptoms of a potentially deadly disease have joined doctors and health officials in urging children, pregnant women and other adults to join a different sort of booster club this year.
This club has nothing to do with sports and everything to do with protecting infants from a potentially fatal illness – pertussis, also commonly known as whooping cough.
Pertussis is a bacterial infection characterized by fits of coughing, followed by a "whoop" sound from the attempt to inhale.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention saw a 24 percent increase in reported cases of pertussis in the first six months of this year compared to the same time period last year with 9,964 cases reported in 50 states and Washington, D.C. between January 1 and June 16 of this year.
The resurgence of pertussis in recent years has brought new recommendations for booster shots for school-aged children, pregnant women and any adults who may be around newborn babies.
"It is just so terribly important that people understand the need to protect babies from this disease" said Devyn Galmor, whose son Cullen spent weeks battling for his life after developing severe symptoms of pertussis. Cullen's illness came shortly after another Elk City baby died of the disease in 2012.
"A booster shot is an additional dose of vaccine that essentially boosts the body's immune response as immunity to the disease wanes over time," said Dr. Robert Welliver, an infectious disease specialist with OU Physicians. "We know that the combination diptheria, tetanus, pertussis vaccine is about 98 percent effective in the first year, but immunity wanes over time. After five years, it is only about 70 percent effective."
Work is underway to develop a new, more effective pertussis vaccine, but researchers are likely at least ten years away from achieving that goal. Welliver said that is where booster shots come in, filling any immunity gap that may exist while a vaccine to produce more long-lasting protection is developed.
"We cannot afford to be casual about vaccination," he said. "As doctors, we would much rather prevent a disease than treat it. Vaccinations are the best way to do that. And because newborns are too young to be vaccinated for pertussis, it is critical that those around them are vaccinated."
Of children under six months of age who contract pertussis, 72 percent must be hospitalized, and 84 percent of all deaths from pertussis occur among children in this age group. A child who gets sick with pertussis in the United States has a one in ten chance of dying, according to the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition.
Recently, in an effort to help better protect newborns from pertussis, new guidelines also were issued for pregnant women. The CDC now recommends that all pregnant women, even those previously vaccinated, receive the pertussis vaccine for adolescents and adults (called Tdap) during the third trimester of pregnancy.
"This recommendation replaces the original one that pregnant women get the vaccine only if they had not previously received it," said Dr. Landon Lorenz, OU Physicians obstetrician and gynecologist. "It is believed the best time to get the vaccine is between your 27th and 36th week of pregnancy. Getting the vaccine while pregnant is ideal so that your baby will have short-term protection as soon as he or she is born."
Lorenz said the early protection is especially important because babies do not get their first pertussis vaccine until they are 2 months old and the first few months of life are when babies are most at risk for catching pertussis and having severe, potentially life-threatening complications from it.
In addition, women should be vaccinated with each pregnancy, he said, to ensure that high levels of protective antibodies are transferred to each of your babies.
Cullen is now 2 year old. To see him play with his 6-year-old twin brothers, Carsen and Cale, at their Elk City home, few would guess the boisterous toddler spent the earliest weeks of his life hospitalized, fighting for every breath.
"He's a real spitfire now," said Levy Galmor.
Still Levy hopes no other family has to face what they did. Though time has passed, they still remember vividly the difficult days they spent at Cullen's side at The Children's Hospital at OU Medical Center as a team of specialists worked to help save their son's life.
"No one should have to go through that − not when something as simple as getting a shot can help protect these babies," said Devyn Galmor, who has become a vocal advocate for vaccination. "It is just too important not to talk about this. People need to know that while getting that shot might not save their lives, it may save the life of a baby or child in their own family or community."
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