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Tdap vaccine protects pregnant mothers and newborns from pertussis

The antibodies developed in the mother’s body are transmitted to the baby through the placenta, giving essential protection from the time of birth to several months thereafter. (Vecteezy pic)

PETALING JAYA: Pertussis, or whooping cough, is a growing concern in Malaysia, especially among infants.

Women’s news website Ova noted that cases of pertussis in Malaysia shot up from 11 in 2021 to 101 cases in 2022.

As of August 2023, there have been 343 reported cases with 24 deaths.

Furthermore, 173 cases (50.4%) involved babies below five months old.

According to SingHealth, pertussis is highly infectious and can be a serious illness for infants.

The disease may include long bursts of coughing and choking, and is characterised by the “whoop” sound caused by gasping for breath. It can also lead to pneumonia, permanent brain damage and death.

Fetomaternal medicine consultant Professor Dr Jamiyah Hassan has recommended that expectant mothers protect themselves and their unborn child with the Tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis (Tdap) vaccine.

Free Tdap vaccination for expectant mothers

The pertussis vaccine is included in a six-in-one injection offered through the National Immunisation Programme (NIP).

It is provided for free to children in four doses — at two months, three months and five months’ old, along with a booster dose at 18 months.

“However, a considerable challenge arises to protect infants less than three months of age, who are too young to be vaccinated from infectious diseases like pertussis without active vaccinations,” said Jamiyah.

Even though babies are scheduled to get their first jab at two months old, it usually takes more time for them to build antibodies, making them vulnerable to infectious diseases.

“To bridge this gap, maternal immunisation emerges as one of the most effective solutions.

“By receiving vaccinations during pregnancy, a mother can achieve a dual advantage: boosting her own immunity and providing vital protection for her unborn child.

“The antibodies developed in the mother’s body are transmitted to the baby through the placenta, giving essential protection at the time of birth and continuing to shield the child for several months thereafter, until the baby receives their own vaccinations,” explained Jamiyah.

In August, health minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa announced that the Tdap vaccine would be provided for free at the ministry’s premier health facilities nationwide.

She said in a statement that, once implemented, all pregnant women, including non-citizens, will be given a dose of Tdap vaccine during the second or third trimester (between 13 and 36 weeks of pregnancy).

The new initiative involves an annual allocation of RM25 million, and is expected to cover an estimated 500,000 pregnant women across the country every year.

“The implementation is expected to begin in 2024 after the procurement of the Tdap vaccine has been completed and the supply is made available at the ministry’s health facilities nationwide.

“More information will be announced from time to time,” she said.

For expectant mothers who are still wary of the vaccine, obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Milton Lum said that it is recommended for every pregnancy.

“While Tdap vaccination is not mandatory, it is administered to all pregnant women unless they have contraindications, which is very rare, or they have objections,” he said.

Learn about the importance of getting vaccinated here.

This article is sponsored by Act of Love.