Pearl Luella Kendrick researched prevention for pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, during the mid-1900s. Pertussis is a respiratory disease that mainly affects infants and young children. During the 1920s, pertussis was responsible for more deaths in children in the United States than any other disease. In the 1930s, Kendrick created one of the first pertussis vaccines that underwent large-scale clinical trials. Towards the end of her career, Kendrick helped developed combination vaccines for other common childhood diseases at the time, including diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, and poliomyelitis. She also studied immune responses in infants whose mothers had pertussis antibodies that transferred to them during pregnancy. Kendrick helped lower the incidence and death rate of pertussis and other common childhood diseases in the US through the creation of vaccines.

Emil von Behring researched treatments for the common childhood disease diphtheria in Germany in the 1890s and early 1900s. Diphtheria is a lethal disease that infected approximately 40,000 people in Germany between 1886 and 1888 with a general mortality rate of twenty-five percent. Behring investigated treatment of diphtheria using serum therapy, which is an alternative to vaccination that uses protective agents from other people’s blood to defend a patient against disease. Behring termed those protective agents antitoxins. He received the first Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work on serum therapy, which was one of the first Nobel Prizes given in the field of immunology. Additionally, Behring researched active vaccination as another way to protect patients from diphtheria. Behring’s studies lowered the mortality rate of diphtheria in Germany through serum therapy and vaccination, especially since vaccination confers protection to both mother and infant during pregnancy and after birth.

In 2014, Flor M. Munoz and colleagues published “Safety and Immunogenicity of Tetanus Diphtheria and Acellular Pertussis (Tdap) Immunization During Pregnancy in Mothers and Infants: A Randomized Clinical Trial,” hereafter “Tdap Immunization During Pregnancy,” in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The authors conducted a study to determine how Tdap immunization affected the mother and infant’s immune response to the common childhood diseases tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. They found that Tdap immunization did not lead to an increased risk of adverse health events. Furthermore, maternal Tdap immunization provided the infant with protective levels of pertussis antibodies after delivery and did not affect the infant differently from the DTaP vaccination series, which is the version of Tdap for young children. The authors’ findings in “Tdap Immunization During Pregnancy” supported the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s, or CDC’s, recommendation for pregnant women to receive the Tdap vaccine to prevent disease in mother and infant.

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