You may know her best as Kendall Hart on All My Children, the cold-hearted Kathryn Merteuil in Cruel Intentions, or, of course, the title character of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but Sarah Michelle Gellar also has a very real and very personal secret science side.
Gellar, a mother of two children with her husband Freddie Prinze Jr., could easily have enjoyed a life in relative seclusion; instead, she’s chosen to use her celebrity status to bring awareness to a deadly, but preventable disease. While pregnant, she became aware of the dangers of pertussis, also known as whooping cough. This highly contagious respiratory disease, caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis, is known for uncontrollable, violent coughing resulting in the need to take deep breaths, causing a “whooping” sound. The disease is most deadly for babies under a year old, especially those under four months who are too young to be fully immunized.
That’s why Gellar decided to get a DTaP/Tdap booster shot while pregnant, bolstering her own protection against pertussis, tetanus, and diphtheria, while also conferring some of that immunity to her unborn baby. Because researchers have found that “up to 83% of babies caught the disease from family members,” Gellar also had her family members get their booster as well, including her mother. Gellar and her mother talked about the dangers of pertussis and the ease of getting an adult vaccination during a special guest appearance on The Doctors:
Gellar also mentioned her partnership with the March of Dimes and Sanofi Pasterus (the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer) in a campaign for adults to get their booster shot. Here’s a snippet of what she had to say about the disease and its prevention:
The reality is that parents, grandparents and other family members may unknowingly spread pertussis to the babies in their lives. That’s why I was vaccinated and so was my family to help protect ourselves and to help stop the spread of the disease to my two children. Now, as the National Sounds of Pertussis Campaign Ambassador I’m urging adults everywhere to do the same.
But Gellar didn’t stop at making television appearances and participating in the occasional interview. She also wrote a special editorial piece for CNN pleading with parents and caregivers to get their boosters and prevent the spread of this disease and any unnecessary loss of life. The awareness campaign began shortly after an outbreak of pertussis in 2012, one of the worst years for reported cases of the disease (at nearly 18,000) in the last 50 years. An epidemic was declared in the state of Washington.
And yet it need not be this way. Pertussis is vaccine preventable, but it takes the informed action of adults getting their boosters to protect the youngest and most vulnerable among us. Children aren’t fully immunized against whooping cough until age seven and are most susceptible under one year of age. So while some celebrities use their status to spread false information and sow fear, doubt, and confusion, others like Gellar are using a calm, level-headed, and informed approach to educate people on the real dangers of a highly contagious but preventable disease. Let’s all try to be a little more like the Slayer, shall we?
Are there any other secret science nerd celebrities you know about and would like us to cover? Please let us know in the comments!
Images: Mutant Enemy