Protecting Babies by Vaccinating Parents

Shetal Shah ’96 pushed for the passage of legislation that benefits some 240,000 babies born each year in New York State.
Shetal Shah ’96 pushed for the passage of legislation that benefits some 240,000 babies born each year in New York State.
Michael Falco/Black Star

Résumé:  Neonatologist and researcher at the Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital of New York Medical College in Valhalla, N.Y. Majored in ecology and evolutionary biology.

Opportunity seized During his neonatology fellowship, Shetal Shah ’96 was called to the emergency room to treat a baby who had contracted influenza, which can be deadly in babies under 6 months of age. Shah recognized the infant as one who had been cared for previously in his neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). “We spend so much time, money, and human resources to get prematurely born babies well enough to leave the hospital, only to have them come back because of the flu,” he says.

Immunizing the adults That experience led Shah to take a leading role in boosting immunization of parents with babies in the NICU. Newborns are too young to be given the flu vaccine. But vaccinating those parents was no small feat. “Doing anything to parents is not considered to be within the scope of the neonatologist,” says Shah. Thanks to his perseverance and several research studies, the American Academy of Pediatrics now encourages hospitals to give all parents the influenza and whooping cough vaccines. Shah advocated successfully for state laws that require New York hospitals to offer these vaccines to all parents (and other caregivers) with newborns in the NICU. While the laws are specific to NICU infants, Shah says most New York hospitals extend the vaccination programs to parents of all newborns.

Beyond influenza Shah is about to start a program at his hospital to screen new mothers of premature infants for postpartum depression. A pilot pneumococcal-vaccination program also is in the works for parents of NICU babies. Today, he says, “there is more understanding that we need to do whatever we can to promote the health of newborns.”