Commentary: Racing against pertussis

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Jeff Gordon
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Jeff Gordon MCT

I know there's been a lot of attention focused on the pertussis epidemic in California so far this year, and the state, county and local health departments and other organizations have been doing a tremendous job of offering information and vaccinations. So, what's a NASCAR driver got to say about the subject that you haven't already heard? Maybe nothing. Now that I'm a Dad myself, I have to speak up and do my part.

Even with all the media coverage and regular visits to our family doctors and my daughter's pediatrician, my wife, Ingrid, and I first learned about pertussis (whooping cough) earlier this year. And what we found out shocked us. What it boils down to is that infants are most often getting pertussis from the people who love them the most - their fathers and mothers, grandparents, aunts, uncles and caregivers.

We wanted to get involved and help parents learn more about the disease and what they can do to help protect themselves and their families, so we joined with Sanofi Pasteur, a major vaccine maker, and March of Dimes as spokespeople for the national Sounds of Pertussis Campaign.

When our daughter Ella was born three years ago, Ingrid and I didn't know pertussis was still around and that we should have gotten an adult pertussis booster vaccine. Although we made sure to keep Ella up-to-date on her vaccinations, we weren't aware that she may not have been fully protected against pertussis until after she received at least three doses of the infant DTaP series. We just had our son in August and this time, we both got vaccinated to reduce our chances of getting pertussis and spreading the disease to him, and so did our friends and family members.

I've had the opportunity to meet several parents who lost their babies to pertussis this year, and no parent should ever have to go through what they have. That's why I filmed a public service announcement that's available to TV and radio stations nationwide.

We all need to work hard to get the message out there, but the next step is up to you. I wouldn't dream of getting behind the wheel of my race car without the proper protection - a firesuit, helmet and seatbelt. As a parent, grandparent, health-care provider or caregiver, why would you put a baby's health at risk by not making sure your own vaccinations were up-to-date.

If you are around a baby, you need to talk to a health-care provider about getting an adult Tdap vaccine today - not tomorrow or next week, but today - because this is one race we just can't win fast enough.

For more information about pertussis and adult Tdap vaccinations, please visit the following resources online:

- The Sounds of Pertussis, www.SoundsOfPertussis.com

- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: www.cdc.gov/pertussis/about/index.html

- The California Department of Public Health, www.cdph.ca.gov/HealthInfo/discond/Pages/Pertussis.aspx


Jeff Gordon is a NASCAR driver and Sounds of Pertussis Campaign representative.

McClatchy Newspapers did not subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of McClatchy Newspapers or its editors.