Cormit Avital’s attitude toward getting vaccinated for pertussis while she was pregnant reflects a sentiment we’re hearing more and more lately. As a healthy, active woman who ate organic foods and practiced whole wellness, why would she bother? She couldn’t imagine she would need to be protected from whooping cough, so when her doctors recommended a standard innoculation against it in her third trimester, she turned them down.
Now she says she wishes she had done things very differently.
Within a few days of giving birth, Avital was back at the hospital for a nasty cough she couldn’t shake. She had indeed contracted whooping cough, and while she says that for her it was little more than an uncomfortable inconvenience that she quickly recovered from, it was something much, much more dangerous for her newborn daughter, Eva.
In a video posted to Gold Coast Health’s Facebook page, Avital describes the fear she felt as she watched her daughter in the NICU and held her while she had violent coughing fits that left her struggling for air. At points, Avital says, Eva would go from red to blue to nearly lifeless, flopping in her mother’s arms, and she described the experience as being like something out of a horror movie.
Whooping cough is highly contagious, and for Eva — as for all babies under a year old — it can in fact be deadly. The symptoms of pertussis include a mild fever, runny nose and the occasional cough sometimes punctuated by apnea, which can make it seem like a run-of-the-mill chest cold. Indeed, Avital remembers thinking it wasn’t a big deal, and they’d come out the other side no more worse for the wear.
Unfortunately it’s the later stage symptoms of pertussis that make it horror movie worthy. Those paroxysms… Violent coughing fits that end in a “whoop,” which is the sound the baby makes as it struggles to get a satisfying breath. Sometimes the baby will go limp from exhaustion or turn blue from lack of oxygen. It is undoubtedly terrifying.
That’s why doctors recommend that babies are innoculated against pertussis with a DTaP vaccine as soon as possible. However, that often means waiting until the baby is 2 months old and administering boosters every few months during the first year and then every few years after that, which means that the youngest infants — like Eva — are still susceptible. To reduce the chance of infection, doctors recommend that everyone around the baby get vaccinated, which includes pregnant women, who can safely receive another version of the shot, Tdap, in the third trimester.
This is the shot Avital refused and wishes she hadn’t.
Fortunately Eva is expected to recover, but it’s a process that will take weeks before she’s finally allowed to go home.
It takes no small amount of bravery to say, “I thought I knew better, but I was wrong,” and it’s clear that it took a lot of courage for Avital to stand up and do exactly that. Sometimes believing does require seeing. It’s unfortunate that Eva had to get very sick before Avital saw how easily mistakes can be made, but it’s clear that there was nothing malicious in her mother’s initial decision to forgo the vaccination. The same can be said of her video confession. There is no sinister agenda here, just a mother who hopes that by going through something no mother should, other people will be spared their own pertussis horror movies.
That’s a very selfless and noble thing that takes courage to do, and we should all recognize that in Avital’s story.
Before you go, check out our slideshow below: