It has been a long and often painful road for Danny Darche and his family. But, after three turbulent years campaigning for a change in pertussis vaccination policy, they have every reason to feel proud.
In 2010, the Darche family lost their daughter, Lore, to whooping cough just 83 days after her birth. Since then, they have campaigned tirelessly – in newspapers, on TV, via social media and in direct talks with policymakers – to raise awareness of pertussis and strengthen immunisation policies in Belgium.
Read Danny’s story here or watch the video below
Not only do they want parents to have their children vaccinated against pertussis in line with the recommended immunisation schedule, they want more vigorous encouragement for pregnant women to be vaccinated, and for adults to be ‘revaccinated’ in order to protect babies like Lore who was too young to be immunised.
Central to their campaign has been the idea of cocooning – a pertussis prevention strategy which involves vaccinating parents, siblings, grandparents and caregivers (such as childcare workers) in order to protect new-born babies from being infected by those around them.
In some countries, older adults may not have received the pertussis vaccine or their immunity may have worn off over the course of several decades. So booster shots are required to be sure that they are protected.
The Darche family has endured not one tragedy but two. Almost two years after Lore’s death, Danny and Katrien were preparing for the arrival of another baby. They were, naturally, concerned to ensure that their own vaccines were up to date but otherwise they were just excited by the prospect of having a new addition to the clan.
Sadly, on June 21, 2012 – Danny’s birthday – they became concerned that something was not right. The baby, whose due date was approaching, had stopped moving at 38.5 weeks. The following day, baby Aude was stillborn due to a knot which had developed in her umbilical cord.
After a short break from campaigning, Danny somehow found the strength to begin again. He was back on Twitter, back on the WHO’s European Immunization Week site, and back reminding everyone who would listen of the need to do more to end vaccine-preventable deaths.
Then, this week, some good news: The Belgian Superior Health Council updated their guidelines on whooping cough vaccination. Danny could hardly have written it better himself.
The expert group restates that babies – even those born prematurely – should be vaccinated against pertussis; they highlight the need for adults to be vaccinated because earlier immunity may have worn off; they say pregnant women should be vaccinated between week 24 and 32 of their pregnancy; and they note that breastfeeding is no obstacle to pertussis vaccination.
Plus, just as Danny had hoped, the Council recommended cocoon vaccination to protect those – like Lore – who are too young to be vaccinated.
But that’s not how this stories ends. The really good news is that the Darche family is celebrating the arrival of a new baby. On August 23, Danny and Katrien welcomed baby Mathieu to the world.
“We felt an immense sense of relief at the announcement because not only were cocoon vaccination and the vaccination of pregnant women – our two main key issues – mentioned, it is a global package,” Danny told Vaccines Today.
“These new guidelines came out just one week after the birth of our little baby boy. We consider it a wonderful present even if elsewhere we feel a kind of bitter sweet sensation because if we had this information in the past, Lore would probably still be alive today.”