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Will vaccinating pregnant mums protect newborns from whooping cough? Research study to find answers.

January 23, 2014
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Pictured: Dr. Deborah Money and Dr. Simon Dobson

Researchers hope that vaccinating pregnant mothers against whooping cough will transfer protective antibodies to babies before birth and then afterwards through breast milk.

Babies in British Columbia are vaccinated against whooping cough (pertussis) as part of the childhood immunization schedule that includes a single vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus, hepatitis B, polio and haemophilus influenza type b. The vaccine is provided to babies in three doses at two months of age, four months, and six months. Children receive a booster shot at 18 months and again between four and six years of age.

However, during the first seven months while infants are developing their immunity in response to the vaccine, they are vulnerable to the bacteria that causes pertussis.

“The whole strategy is to have lots of pertussis antibody at birth to tide the baby over until the vaccine can be given at two months,” says Dr. Simon Dobson, an investigator with the Vancouver site of the national study. Dr. Dobson is a clinical investigator at the Child & Family Research Institute, infectious disease specialist with BC Children’s Hospital, and head, Division of Infectious Diseases, Department of Pediatrics at the University of British Columbia (UBC).  

“We are very supportive of working towards a strategy where infants can be protected through vaccinating women during their pregnancy,” says Dr. Deborah Money, who is leading the Vancouver study. Dr. Money is vice president, Research at BC Women’s Hospital & Health Centre; professor, UBC Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology; and executive director of the Women’s Health Research Institute.

Researchers are seeking fifty pregnant women in Vancouver to participate in the study, and a total of 390 women are being recruited across Canada. Women in the Vancouver area can find out more about the research by calling the study nurses at 604-875-2424, extension 4796.

Women participating in the study receive the pertussis vaccine during their 34th week of pregnancy, and then visit the clinic for follow up appointments that coincide with the regular childhood immunization schedule. Samples of the mother’s blood, breast milk, and the baby’s cord blood will be taken at time of delivery and then analyzed as part of the study.

Whooping cough is a serious and contagious respiratory infection that can be dangerous for infants. Most complications, which can include pneumonia, seizures, brain damage and death, happen in babies under one year of age.

This is an investigator initiated and designed study that is funded by a grant from Sanofi Pasteur. The national study is led by Dr. Scott Halperin at IWK Health Centre at Dalhousie University.

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