Thursday, December 29, 2011

Cocooning: A vaccine strategy to protect infants

Son after immunizations (4 months old)
I just learned a new way to use a familiar word. Cocooning is the strategy where close family members of infants are vaccinated to protect infants who are too young to get shots themselves. Babies have to be at least six weeks old to get vaccines like TDaP and six months old to get the flu shot.

My husband and I tried to institute a smaller version of cocooning when our son was born. We asked that all family members make sure that they were current on their vaccines, with particular note paid to more rare immunizations, like the one for pertussis (whooping cough). Our request was only partially successful.

Cocooning is backed by the CDC, as evidenced in many of their vaccine recommendations that adults who have close contact with infants should also get a dose of _____ (recommended vaccine). However, not much research has been done on the practice.

One barrier to the use of cocooning is the hefty price tag. Canadian government researchers estimated that preventing one infant death would require vaccination of at least one million parents. American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reports on cocooning, released in the journal Pediatrics, do not directly recommend that pediatricians start offering shots to parents. "What it says is, if you choose to do it, this is OK," said the AAP's Dr. Herschel R. Lessin, who worked on the report.
"The goal here is to get everyone immunized," said Lessin. "As pediatricians, we think immunization is the greatest thing in the history of mankind."

Lessin acknowledged that there isn't much evidence on how effective cocooning really is. "It's a relatively new concept," he said. "I don't know that anyone has looked at whether it works." The Canadian study, published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, takes a stab at that, although it's based on calculations instead of an actual experiment.
From past research, Skowronski and her colleagues estimated that whooping cough in infants could be blamed on parents passing the disease along some 35 percent of the time. (from "Cocooning: Doctors Divided on Vaccine Strategy to Protect Babies")
I think it's a simple enough thing to add myself and my family to the ranks of the well-vaccinated. Each person vaccinated creates a small but important measure of protection for themselves and those around them.

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