New Law Will Protect Newborns from the Resurgence of Whooping Cough

Stony Brook Long Island Children’s Hospital to offer Whooping Cough vaccination for parents of newborns
July 31, 2012

Stony Brook, N.Y. – In an effort to staunch a national epidemic of whooping cough, hospitals across New York State will offer the pertussis vaccine to all parents and caregivers of newborns next year.

The new law is the direct result of efforts by Shetal Shah, M.D., Stony Brook Long Island Children’s Hospital neonatologist who advocated for approval of the law based on research he published in the journal Pediatrics. Dr. Shah’s research showed that when parents in the hospital were offered the pertussis vaccine, they were not only receptive to the idea, they were eager to receive it. As a result, vaccination rates improved. The study showed that the best time to offer the vaccine to parents is while the mother is still hospitalized, soon after delivery.

Sponsored in the New York Legislature by Senator Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City) and Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), this new law requires general hospitals “having a newborn nursery or providing obstetric services to offer to every parent, person in parental relation or other person who is reasonably anticipated to be a caregiver of a newborn being treated in such hospital vaccination against Bordetella pertussis (whooping cough).”

“As a biomedical researcher of infectious diseases who knows the power of vaccines, I knew a lot of people would benefit when Governor Cuomo signed this bill into law,” said Samuel L. Stanley Jr., Stony Brook University President. “I deeply appreciate all of the hard work of Senator Hannon and Assemblyman Englebright and so many others here at Stony Brook – particularly Dr. Shah – who helped make this law a reality.”

“Dr. Shah has shown true leadership and persistence in advocating for passage of this bill,” said Margaret M McGovern, MD, PhD, Professor and Chairman, Department of Pediatrics, Stony Brook University School of Medicine, and Physician-in-Chief, Stony Brook Long Island Children’s Hospital. “He has advocated for a common-sense solution that will be effective in raising the immunization rates for parents and other caregivers across the state.”

“Because of the high risk to newborns, every precaution should be taken to ensure their safety,” said Senator Hannon, Chair of the Senate Committee on Health. “By requiring that vaccinations be offered to parents and caregivers of newborn children, New York is taking the lead in ensuring these vulnerable babies are protected from this potentially fatal malady. I am pleased the Governor has signed my bill into law.”

“Whooping cough can be very dangerous, and often fatal, for newborns,” said Richard N. Gottfried, Chair of the Assembly Committee on Health. “Helping parents, relatives, and caregivers get vaccinated against whooping cough reduces the exposure of newborns, whose immune systems are not able to handle the vaccine.”

“Whooping cough is a disease that we thought vaccines had banished,” Assemblyman Englebright said. “When Dr. Shah approached me in February I learned otherwise. This disease is resurging because the vaccine is not permanent. Dr. Shah’s suggestion for a new law to offer vaccines to parents and caregivers is brilliant, timely, and effective. I’m grateful to all who responded to Dr. Shah’s request for action as this will save the lives of newborns.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, New York currently ranks third in the number of reported cases nationally. Statewide, 1,288 cases have been reported – three times the number from 2011. There have been 187 cases in New York City and 333 on Long Island, and an outbreak of pertussis occurred in Northport earlier this year and in Setauket more recently.

“This vaccine is approved not just for children and adults but also for pregnant women in their second and third trimester, since it is from these unvaccinated or under vaccinated family members that infants can get pertussis,” Dr. Sharon Nachman, Professor of Pediatrics, Stony Brook University School of Medicine, and Division Chief, Pediatric Infectious Diseases, at Stony Brook Children’s, said. The new law not only will help New York avoid breakthrough episodes of pertussis in the general population, it will reduce healthcare costs by avoiding costly treatment of pertussis in newborns.

“Parents and caregivers of newborns need to be aware that the pertussis vaccine is short-lived and can wear off within a decade,” Dr. Shetal Shah said. “So some people who were immunized as children are no longer protected in adolescence or adulthood. Health officials are calling on all adults to get a booster shot as soon as possible – especially pregnant women and adults who spend time around children. The government recommends that children get vaccinated in five doses, with the first shot at age 2 months and the final one between 4 and 6 years. A booster shot is recommended around 11 or 12.”

Experts believe whooping cough occurs in cycles and peaks every three to five years. The current epidemic rate has been linked to the effectiveness of the vaccine, which was modified in the late 1990s following concerns about rashes, fevers and other side effects. The bill takes effect on January 18, 2013.

About Stony Brook Long Island Children’s Hospital:

Established in June 2010, Stony Brook Long Island Children's Hospital is Suffolk County’s only children’s hospital. More than 7,000 children and adolescents are admitted each year. Stony Brook Children’s operates 100 pediatric beds and has more than 100 full-time pediatric physicians and surgeons and over 200 voluntary pediatric faculty members in 30 different specialties. The hospital is the Level 4 Regional Perinatal Center for our area and has a Level 3 Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. It is home to the nation’s first Pediatric Multiple Sclerosis Center and also offers a Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Program, Pediatric Cardiology Program, Pediatric HIV and AIDS Center, Cystic Fibrosis Center and the Cody Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities. To learn more, visit the Stony Brook Long Island Children’s Hospital Web site.