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Jeff Gordon Talks Putting the Brakes on Pertussis

By Carolyn Davis Cockey, MLS

Jeff Gordon Talks Putting the Brakes on Pertussis

“Imagine a cough barreling through your infant’s body at up to 100 miles per hour, with enough force to make him gasp for air, again and again, for weeks or even months… and now imagine that you gave this to your baby,” says NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon.

His gripping public service video drives home the message that preventing pertussis—whooping cough—only happens when parents and caregivers get vaccinated.

Pertussis is potentially fatal to infants. Summer and fall are typically the most active months for the disease, yet it’s often missed in adults and older children as a lingering cold or bronchitis.

“We can’t stop pertussis fast enough,” says Jeff, who with wife Ingrid Vandebosch, is urging parents and infant caregivers to get the adult pertussis booster, the Tdap vaccine, to protect babies. “Even though there may not be an outbreak right now in your town, the disease knows no boundaries; it is always out there.”

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Babies at risk from their caregivers

With an infant and toddler at home, it didn’t take a brush with the highly contagious disease to convince the Gordon family to get vaccinated: “When we were expecting last year, we learned that pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is not a disease of the past,” says Ingrid.

In fact, “pertussis has been on the rise throughout the country, particularly in California, where we often travel as part of Jeff’s race schedule and to visit friends and family. Last year, an epidemic was declared in the state, and 10 infants died from the disease,” she said.

That same drive to get vaccinated led them to join the Sounds of Pertussis prevention campaign (soundsofpertussis.com), a joint initiative between Sanofi Pasteur and March of Dimes. “As parents of two young children, we’ve learned that babies are especially vulnerable to getting pertussis because they may not be fully protected against the disease until they’ve had at least 3 doses of an infant DTaP vaccine,” says Jeff.

In fact, 4 out of 5 cases of pertussis in infants (80%) are contracted from a family member. “That’s why we’ve asked that everyone involved with our children get vaccinated against pertussis,” says Ingrid. “It’s important for all adults who are in close contact with an infant to help protect themselves against the disease so they don’t get sick and unknowingly spread it to babies.”

While some parents may be shy about asking those around their baby to get vaccinated, Ingrid says education makes the difference: “Once [our family] learned about the issue, they stepped right up to get the vaccine.”

Currently, the CDC recommends pertussis vaccination or a booster for the following:

    • All women who are trying to conceive, who are pregnant at a gestational age of at least 20 weeks or more, or who are postpartum. The Tdap vaccine is recommended after 20 weeks gestation because it ensures baby gets the greatest benefit from the build-up of antibodies from mom. This gives baby the most protection against pertussis at birth and in the earliest months
    • Any adolescent ages 11 to 18 who may have completed childhood vaccinations and will now need one lifetime booster
    • Adults of all ages, especially parents, grandparents, caregivers and anyone who will be providing care for a baby, particularly infants ages newborn to 12 months

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Racing to save families

In the past 4 years, adorable Ella and baby Leo have taken high speed living to a whole new level, says Jeff. “At a racetrack, you have a very set schedule. You know when you have to be somewhere and what you’re going to be doing. When it comes to family life, with two kids, it’s definitely more hectic. There’s always a lot going on with the family schedule when we’re at home,” he said.

While Ingrid enjoyed the surprising changes in her body with her first pregnancy, she definitely felt more prepared welcoming baby Leo. “What amazed me is how your entire focus changes. Your children become the absolute center of your life and you’re always looking at what you can do for them,” she said.

Her best advice for new moms? “Just relaxing and not trying to follow too many rules or trying to do everything the “right” way. It’s a lot easier with the second child. I love seeing my children learn something new or accomplish a new task. It’s just exciting to see them grow and develop.”

For Jeff, shifting to dad was a big game changer: “Becoming parents for the first time was total shock. But it is really special when they call you ‘papa’ for the first time,” or when you “see the excitement in their eyes when you walk through the door.”

Race to Blanket America

Join Jeff and Ingrid online in their new campaign, The Race to Blanket America, with pertussis prevention by adding a quilt square of your own design to the Sounds of Pertussis Protection Quilt.

“We’re creating the quilt to symbolize how those closest to babies can help create a ‘cocoon,’ or a blanket of protection, around the babies in our lives by getting vaccinated against pertussis,” Jeff says.

Together, Jeff and Ingrid created a quilt square in honor of Ella and Leo, which will one day be stitched with all of the other designs into a huge quilt and hang in the Jeff Gordon Children’s Hospital, says Ingrid. Find out how to create your square at soundsofpertussis.com.

Carolyn Davis Cockey, MLS is editor-in-chief of Healthy Mom&Baby magazine and director of publications for the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric & Neonatal Nurses.


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