Making sure immunizations are up-to-date is one of the things expectant grandparents should put on their to-do list.
I found myself needing a new primary care physician when my grandson was about a year old. After a long search I found a doctor who seemed to have all the qualities I was looking for. At our first appointment, she put me at ease immediately as we chatted about why I was looking for a new physician. Then she reviewed my health history, and said with clear surprise, “I don’t see a recent DtaP booster on your record. Didn’t you need one to visit your grandson?”
It had never occurred to me that I should be getting vaccine boosters to protect my newborn grandchildren, and my last doctor hadn’t ever mentioned it. Nor did my son or his wife bring it up, probably assuming I was as boosted as I needed to be. I’ve since learned that getting immunizations is one of the things expectant grandparents should put on their to-do list.
Remember, I’m not a health professional and this is not medical advice. Rather, I’m providing this information for you to discuss with your own health care provider.
Why do grandparents need immunizations?
Newborns can’t be immunized from some of the highly contagious diseases for which we have vaccines. At the same time, those diseases are incredibly dangerous in a child that young. The best way to protect them is by making sure the people around them are vaccinated and boosted, so that there is almost no chance they can pass along a preventable illness.
I saw this first hand when my son contracted measles when he was a year old. He wasn’t due for the immunization for another few months, and watching his limp little body fight off a serious disease was frightening. I firmly believe that anyone who is anti-vaccine has never seen their child seriously ill.
Which immunizations do grandparents need?
Here’s a list of the most important immunizations for grandparents. Even if you’ve been vaccinated against some of them in the past, you may need a booster. Talk to your doctor about the following:
TdaP At the top of the list is the TdaP, which protects you and your grandchild from tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. Since diphtheria is incredibly rare, and tetanus isn’t contagious, the big concern is pertussis. Pertussis, more commonly known as whooping cough, is both highly contagious and extremely serious. About half of the babies who contract pertussis end up in the hospital, and the mortality rate babies under six weeks old is over 30%. Some hospitals don’t allow visitors to the birthing wing without proof of current vaccination.
MMR It's also important to make sure your MMR is up-to-date. Measles, mumps and rubella are all preventable illnesses that can have make a baby very sick. Of these, the biggest concern is measles. Though the death rate for measles is low, the potential long-term effects can be devastating: it can cause brain damage, deafness, or a truly frightening disease called subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE). (Which I’m really glad I hadn’t read about before researching this article, or I would have spent a lot of years worrying after my son had measles.)
Pneumonia & flu You’ll also want to get a pneumonia vaccine for pneumococcal diseases, as bacterial pneumonia in infants is serious and can cause life-threatening infections of the blood, brain and spinal cord. Since bacterial pneumonia is also dangerous for older adults, you’ll be protecting yourself as well. The same hold true for influenza—you are protecting both yourself and your infant grandchild against an illness that can be serious.
Shingles While babies can’t get shingles, they could contract chickenpox from someone infected with shingles. The newer Shingrix vaccine cannot transmit the virus the way the older, live vaccine did, so there is no danger of giving your grandchild chickenpox after being vaccinated.
Covid-19 While Covid-19 has so far shown to be relatively mild in babies, getting this vaccine is important to protect yourself and the rest of your community.
When should grandparents get vaccines?
As soon as you know there’s a baby on the way, you’ll want to check with your doctor about what shots you need. It takes time for your body to build immunity, and some vaccines require more than one dose to provide full protection. Your doctor can go over your health history and make sure you have all the immunizations you need to protect both yourself and your new grandchild.
Protecting our grandchildren is one of our most basic instincts, and getting immunized is an important way to do it. For more information, please speak with your own health care team.
What Else Grandparents Need To Know: