Most parents are vigilant in ensuring that their children are protected against common diseases, including pertussis (also known as whooping cough). However, over the last few years there has been a significant increase in the number of pertussis cases and deaths. Many parents may be inadvertently putting their children at risk by letting their own immunity wane when they neglect to keep up with vaccine recommendations. Alarmingly, they are unaware that as a result they can pass on the disease to their newborns who are too young to be immunized or have not received the full series of the Tdap vaccine.
Consequently, numerous families have been affected by this deadly disease. There are heart-breaking stories from parents around the world expressing disbelief over the fact that their child’s hospitalization or death could have easily been prevented. Most parents know and understand that their young children need to be vaccinated, but very few are informed about the need for pregnant women, family members, and caregivers to be vaccinated.
The need to inform the public about the dangers of pertussis has recently led to an educational campaign, Sounds of Pertussis, sponsored by the March of Dimes and Sanofi Pasteur. The campaign is hoping to increase awareness through press releases, public service announcements, and events featuring actress Sarah Michelle Gellar and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon. Through testimonial videos and information on the disease and its prevention, the Sounds of Pertussis campaign is encouraging adults to get the booster vaccine as a means of protecting not only themselves, but also their vulnerable newborns as well.1
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urges adolescents and adults to receive a single dose of the Tdap vaccine since the effects of the vaccine diminish after 5-10 years. It also recommends that pregnant women receive the vaccine during each pregnancy between 27-36 weeks. The need to educate parents and change public health policies is crucial in light of the rise of cases in the United States over the last few years. In 2009, there were nearly 17,000 pertussis cases and 12 deaths, while in 2012 there were over 41,000 cases and 18 deaths with the majority of deaths occurring among infants younger than 3 months old.2 An outbreak of this magnitude has not been seen since 1959 when there were 40,000 cases.3 The move towards preventing pertussis has begun to affect state public health policies, as can be seen by the law passed by the New York State Health Department in January 2013 requiring hospitals to offer parents and other adults that come into contact with newborns the Tdap vaccine. 4
Danny Darche and his wife Katrien Bensch are among one of the many parents tragically affected by pertussis. They became advocates for vaccines in 2010 after losing their infant daughter Lore to pertussis. Below in their own words is their personal story of how they are bringing awareness to this deadly disease that affects children around the world.
Whooping cough…What does it mean to you? Is it serious? Let’s go out and ask people in the street…
“Hum, an annoying cough… it’s a banal childhood disease, right? Only children can catch it… it’s an old disease that’s been eradicated… it consists of coughing fits but nothing too serious… just one week of antibiotics can cure it… it’s good for a child to get it, because they will get stronger…”
These words hurt us so deeply after the loss of our 2.5-month-old little baby girl Lore.
We realized that nearly no one was aware of the real dangers of whooping cough and that too often, the consequences of the disease are minimized. It was high time for us to share our story and to launch our own awareness campaign.
We decided to create Lore’s campaign with two goals in mind: 1) Connecting and giving support to other parents who faced the same agonizing experience. As a result, we are in touch with people from Australia, the United States, Great Britain, France and another Belgian couple. 2) Raising awareness about the seriousness of the disease by showing a real example through our quite simple story: we were not vaccinated and we contaminated our own baby girl.
Pertussis is a silent killer! While most adults will recover from it, for babies it can be fatal. Searching for information about vaccines on the Internet has become an obstacle course. Often, hesitant parents’ anxieties are fueled and confounded by the volumes of misinformation found on the web. Many of the false claims about vaccines are made to look like they come from scientific sites. It can be difficult for any parent to navigate and distinguish the facts.
Our tragedy could easily have been avoided if we had been better informed. Cocoon vaccination (vaccinating family members and caregivers) and vaccinating pregnant women could have made the difference. If we had been told about the cocoon vaccination, we would have been revaccinated and Lore would still be alive today. But now, life goes on of course, but every night we go to sleep with the knowledge that we contributed to the death of our own baby. That’s a sentiment I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
After visiting our site, we hope that parents will be better informed on the need to vaccinate their children and themselves. Our message is clear: We did not have the chance to get the vital information. You do! Please make sure your Tdap is up to date and that all persons caring for your child or residing in your house are properly vaccinated. This is Lore’s legacy to the world!
Danny, Katrien and their family live in Belgium. Lore would have celebrated her 3rd birthday on August 17, 2013.
At Vaccine Ambassadors, our mission is to provide access to vaccines to all children regardless of where they live. However, there is also a great need to educate the public in countries where vaccines are routinely offered. We will continue to provide both awareness and access so that we can help prevent the estimated 30-50 million cases and 300,000 deaths from pertussis worldwide each year.5
To learn more about Lore and her family please visit http://loredarche.be