IWK researchers want to protect kids from certain infections before they’re born

Click to play video: 'Study hopes to better protect newborns'
Study hopes to better protect newborns
WATCH ABOVE: The IWK Health Centre is vaccinating 70 pregnant women to protect their children while they're still in the womb. Alexa MacLean spoke with one of the participants to hear why she wanted to be a part of the study – Mar 10, 2016

A new, wide-ranging medical study is hoping to protect children from health issues while they’re still in the womb.

Researchers at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax are working with pregnant women to help ensure their children are guarded against a variety of illnesses before they’re even born.

READ MORE: Low vaccine rates could be improved by a national registry

Dr. Scott Halperin, the head of infectious diseases at the hospital, is part of a North American trial that is vaccinating more than 600 pregnant women.

“Vaccines are materials that we give people to simulate an infection and to get them to produce an immune response against the particular organism that we’re immunizing with,” Halperin said.

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The study is focused on the prevention of whooping cough, a highly contagious infection of the respiratory tract.

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The combination vaccine being given is called TDAP, and it goes into the fetus with the goal of speeding up protection in children before they’re born.

“The ‘AP’ is for the acellular pertussis, which is the whooping cough vaccine,” Halperin said. “The ‘T’ and ‘D’ are for tetanus, another very serious infection, and diphtheria.”

Vaccines are considered by experts to be one of the greatest medical advances of the 20th century, although some people are still leery of their benefits.

“People are always concerned about giving anything to someone who’s not sick,” Halperin said. “If somebody’s sick, we rush to give them medicine, but vaccines are given to people who are well in order to prevent them from getting sick.”

One of the study participants is Joanah Bernal, a mother from the Philippines. She and her husband are expecting another addition to their family and happily jumped at the opportunity to partake in the study.

“In some developing countries they literally die waiting for access to vaccines, so we have this opportunity. Why waste it?” she said.

Halperin said every three to four years there is an outbreak of whooping cough.

“Back in 2012, there were over 1,400 cases of whooping cough in New Brunswick alone,” he said. “So if whooping cough is in the community and you’re not protected against it, it’s a very contagious bacteria.”

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While getting vaccines is still a personal choice, Joanah believes it’s an important part of the health-care system.

“It’s my responsibility as a parent to protect my child and to protect other people too,” she said.

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