In 2011, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) issued a recommendation that pregnant women receive the Tdap vaccine at 20 weeks gestation. Tdap combines the Tetanus, Diptheria, and Pertussis (whooping cough) vaccines into a single jab.
This recommendation was in response to continued outbreaks of whooping cough around the United States, the most recent located in Washington State which is currently in its 20th week with 2,786 reported cases.
When a doctor recommends a certain prenatal treatment such as Tdap, no doubt most pregnant patients trust the doctor’s advice and assume that the shot has been proven safe and won’t in any way harm her baby.
The truth is that Tdap has never been proven safe for use during pregnancy. In fact, Tdap is classified by the FDA as a Class C drug.
The definition of a Class C drug is as follows:
Animal reproduction studies have shown an adverse effect on the fetus and there are no adequate and well-controlled studies in humans, but potential benefits may warrant use of the drug in pregnant women despite potential risks.
How Dangerous Are Class C Drugs?
To give some idea of how dangerous Class C drugs during pregnancy actually are, let’s compare SSRI drugs, more commonly known as anti-depressants which are also categorized as Class C during pregnancy.
Studies have shown that SSRIs taken during pregnancy increase the risk of birth defects of the heart and lungs. Another study in the Netherlands found an association between preterm birth and delayed fetal head growth for those mothers taking anti-depressants. More recently, a study out of CHE Ste-Justine’s Research Center in Canada, indicated SSRIs can increase blood pressure in the mother. High blood pressure during pregnancy is very dangerous and can lead to a serious and potentially deadly condition known as pre-eclampsia.
Class C drugs are clearly not a safe choice during pregnancy. Does it make logical sense then for a woman to follow the recommendation of her doctor and receive the Tdap despite the clear risks to her baby?
Is Tdap Worth the Risk?
The decision whether or not to accept the doctor’s recommendation and receive Tdap despite the potential risks to the fetus essentially boils down to one thing:
Is Tdap really effective at preventing whooping cough?
The answer to this critical question is a resounding NO as attempts to prevent infants from getting pertussis via vaccination have failed despite a big push to immunize mothers and everyone who will potentially be in contact with the baby after birth, a strategy known as “cocooning”.
More damning evidence of the ineffectiveness of the pertussis vaccine is evident in the current outbreak in Washington State. Dr. DeBolt of the Washington Department of Health indicated that Washington has very high vaccination rates with only a 4% exemption rate amongst school age children.
Despite these high vaccination rates, Dr. DeBolt also reports that the Washington Health Department has been “flooded” with phone calls from concerned parents questioning the effectiveness of the pertussis vaccine and demanding to know why their child had contracted whooping cough despite being completely up to date on pertussis shots.
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist