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Vaccination Overload

While I was getting obgyn recommendations from friends, I decided to ask my primary care doctor to help me out on the vaccination front. I wanted to check my immunity to chicken pox (technically called varicella), and everything else I'm supposed to be vaccinated against. I also wanted to get the whooping cough (pertussis) vaccine, which comes along with the tetanus vaccine — it's a combo vaccine that includes Tetanus, Diptheria, and Acellular Pertussis (it's called the Tdap vaccine).

Should have been simple. I mean, here I am, a health writer — someone who has been interviewing doctors for years about the particulars of women's and kids' health (and pregnancy) — so getting my own health in order before conception should have been easy as pie. But of course, nothing is ever that easy.

The reason I was concerned about the whooping cough vaccine: I'd been reading about reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) saying that whooping cough is on the rise. Even though we were all vaccinated against it as kids, our immunity wears off after a while. So in 2005, the CDC started to recommend that teens and adults get a booster shot. Since the whooping cough vaccine is only available along with the tetanus and diptheria shot, the CDC now suggests that when people go in for a tetanus booster (which has typically been a Tetanus, Diptheria shot called Td), they should get the Tdap vaccine instead so that they get immunity to all three infections — tetanus, diptheria AND pertussis (whooping cough).

Most crucial to me: The fact that babies are particularly vulnerable to whooping cough — and the CDC suggests that all people who expect to be around infants should get vaccinated. So, no, I'm not completely neurotic. I simply want to do everything I possibly can for the health of this baby. And if the CDC recommends this vaccination for the health of babies, then I'm on board.

Once again, it seems my doctor didn't get the memo. But first let me say that I love my primary care doctor. She's always been great. She's smart, she listens, she's accessible, and relatable (she's about my age, and we have no problem spending a good portion of my appointment talking about the nuances of hair color). But as a busy clinician, she probably doesn't hear about every new CDC recommendation. So when I went to see her about this, she wasn't super informed on this issue. She did check my blood work and found that I wasn't immune to chicken pox, as I suspected. So she agreed that I should get the chicken pox vaccine. And yes, I was due for a "tetanus" shot.

Great, right? Not exactly. Right after she gave me both the chicken pox shot and the tetanus shot, she told me that she'd only given me the Td shot (Tetanus, Diptheria), not the Tdap shot (Tetanus, Diptheria, Pertussis).

"We didn't have the Tdap vaccine in, so I gave you the older tetanus shot," she said.

"But I wanted the whooping cough shot," I said, my stomach tightening. (At least I wasn't half naked on the exam table this time.)

"Well, it's a good idea to get the tetanus shot now anyway, and you can always get a booster for the whooping cough later," she said.

I froze. As it turns out, we happened to be writing a Parenting article at that time on the whooping cough vaccine. So I knew that the vaccine is not available on its own, and that if I wanted the whooping cough vaccine, I'd need to get a "tetanus" shot again. I also knew that the CDC suggests that people should give themselves at least two years between tetanus shots since getting one right after the other can cause a severe reaction. How the heck was I going to get the whooping cough vaccine now?