By Danielle Galvin
There’s a trend among expectant parents taking to social media to tell their family and friends to make sure they are up to date with their vaccinations or stay away from their newborn baby in those first few precious weeks of life.
It’s called the “No Vax, No Visit” campaign.
For many parents, it can be a minefield telling family members and close friends to steer clear if they haven’t had their whooping cough booster or recent flu jab.
The trend is cause for concern for Royal Children’s Hospital paediatrician Dr Margie Danchin, who specialises in immunisation.
She believes it’s time to give the control back to mums-to-be, and get the facts straight.
“It’s quite concerning really – I think it’s creating hysteria where hysteria doesn’t need to be,” she said.
“The first thing we want to do is reassure new mums that we are listening and we are not judging them (but) No Vax No Visit is not something I support.
“We know that the best thing a pregnant woman can do to protect her infant is maternal immunisation.”
But in an age of vaccine hesitation, of horror flu seasons, and confronting messaging about the dangers of the likes of preventable diseases such as measles, how do new parents know what to do?
Dr Danchin says the pertussis vaccine is 91 per cent effective in the first 3-6 months of life against the baby getting whooping cough. Likewise, for pregnant women who have the flu shot, it’s 90 per cent effective in protecting those babies from needing to be admitted to hospital even if they do catch it.
“So you’re talking about very effective vaccines where the mother has control over protecting her infant, whereas you don’t have control over the people around you,” she said.
“And we also know from all the cocooning data – cocooning is the grandparents, dads, and all the visitors getting vaccinated, we know that this is not nearly as effective as maternal vaccinations.
“What I’ve been saying is that we need to help mums understand how effective maternal vaccination is and that it’s safe and effective.
“But also if they are concerned about friends or family members visiting their newborn, if they don’t have any respiratory symptoms so if they have no cough or cold or runny nose, the chance of them transmitting something to the infant has got to be close to zero.”
Dr Danchin believes the ‘No Vax, No Visit’ policy can create unnecessary conflict and stress.
She’s fielding more and more questions from concerned parents to be.
“It’s a really common question – especially as we know there are more parents with concerns about vaccinations we don’t really have data to suggest vaccine refusal is on the rise, but we know in certain regions it’s much higher and the problem is in your area you don’t know how high vaccine hesitancy is,” she said.
“But the reality is the minute you leave hospital you’re going to go to the cafe, or library or the supermarket – how are you going to control all those people?
“I think the message is giving the control back to the parents – particularly the mother – so that they can control direct protection to their infant.”
Part of the problem is the mixed messages many receive about maternal vaccination. Obstetricians, GPs and midwives aren’t always well-versed at being able to answer questions from parents about the risks of preventable diseases, disease transmission and vaccine refusal.
“I think we have a really big job as paediatricians and vaccine experts in helping OBs and GPs, midwives communicate the facts clearly and consistently, it is something we are really struggling with,” she said.
She said it’s important for health care providers to be able to communicate about the facts.
In her view, it’s misguided to try and avoid going out in public with your newborn before the first round of vaccinations at 6 weeks.
“There’s a risk there for post-natal depression and isolation, a lack of engagement, self worth plummeting because they are isolated,” she said.
Dr Danchin and others in her field have developed a new website and resources to be launched in 2020 to give health care providers and pregnant women the key facts about maternal immunisation.
She’s hoping it will clear up some of the misinformation around vaccines and newborns, particularly for parents who find themselves confused and unsure of what to do.
She said it was advisable that anyone with a cold or cough, or any other virus, should steer clear of a newborn baby.
“The problem is you don’t have someone (being) the voice of reason,” she sad.
“I want to reassure pregnant women they can control this – they don’t need to choose a No Vax, No Visit punitive policy,” she said.