For Jill Perlstein of Flanders, getting a booster shot for pertussis – commonly called whooping cough – was a no-brainer.
Perlstein and her husband got booster shots of the vaccine when their son Julien, now five weeks old, was born prematurely. Babies typically receive the pertussis beginning at the age of two months; doctors have said when infants contract the disease, it usually comes from parents or caregivers before they are fully immunized.
"We would feel so guilty if we brought something home to our child, especially if it could be prevented," she said. "It's the smart, safe thing to do."
Perlstein joined New York State Assemb. Steve Englebright, D-Setauket, and State Sen. Kemp Hannon, R-Garden City, at on Tuesday as they announced new legislation that requires hospitals to offer pertussis booster shots to new parents and caregivers to protect their babies' health.
The law stopped short of requiring parents to get the vaccine because lawmakers thought it would be going too far. "We need to gently nudge people along" in getting boosters, Hannon said.
According to Stony Brook University President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr., who is a specialist in infectious diseases, pertussis was a leading cause of death among infants and children until regular vaccination reduced it to about 1,000 U.S. cases a year by the mid- to late-1970s. However, he said, pertussis is on a comeback, with approximately 27,500 cases reported in the U.S. in 2011.
A case of pertussis was reported in July at Gelinas Junior High in Setauket; another was reported in Commack.
"This is a preventable disease, based on vaccinations," Stanley said. "It's something we should not have to deal with."
Typically, the government recommends that babies get immunized in five doses: the first is received at the age of two months, with the final dose between ages four and six. Doctors recommend booster shots around the age of 11 or 12.
"Over time the immunization, and the protection that the immunization confers, can wane, which means that parents themselves can serve as vectors of disease and actually transmit whooping cough to their infants who are not yet fully immunized," said Dr. Shetal Shah, the neonatologist who worked with Hannon and Englebright on the bill.
He recently published a study in the journal Pediatrics that showed that parents were likely to receive the vaccine when offered it while new mothers were still hospitalized following delivery, leading to improved vaccination rates.
"What we attempted to do with this bill is to break that cycle of transmission," Shah said.
Doctors have said hospitals are not expected to incur significant new costs associated with the law, which takes effect in January.
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