As Buffy the Vampire Slayer, actress Sarah Michelle Gellar saved the world from vampires, demons and the forces of darkness. In real life, the 36-year-old mother of two is committed to eradicating a different type of villain: pertussis (or whooping cough), a highly contagious and serious respiratory disease.
Married to actor Freddie Prinze Jr., for the past 11 years, Gellar and her husband are parents to Charlotte, 3-and-a-half years old, and Rocky, age 1. After learning that in 2012, America experienced one of the largest outbreaks of reported pertussis cases in 50 years, Gellar signed on to be the 2013 National Sounds of Pertussis campaign ambassador.
Joining forces with the March of Dimes and pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur, Gellar hopes to educate families about the potential risks of pertussis, and the importance of vaccinations.
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With her new sitcom, The Crazy Ones, set to premiere on September 26, we asked Gellar to share details on her new show, parenthood and why she believes it’s important for both children and their families to get vaccinations.
Why did you join forces with the Sounds of Pertussis campaign?
After I learned that 83 percent of pertussis deaths occurred in infants younger than a year old, I knew I wanted to take action. I think I have the ability to reach a lot of families who might not realize that pertussis is on the rise, and that it’s a vaccine-preventable disease. I also want parents and other adults to be aware of the Tdap (tetanus, diptheria and pertussis), and to know that vaccine protection for pertussis, tetanus and diphtheria fades over time, so all adults age 19 and older who have not previously received a Tdap vaccine need a booster shot.
What do you hope to accomplish with the campaign?
Eighty percent of the time, babies get whooping cough from family members, and 50 percent of the time from the parents themselves. Infants, who are not yet old enough to receive the pertussis vaccine, and young children who are not fully immunized, are at an increased risk of contracting the disease. As parents, we all want to keep our children healthy. I can’t imagine the agony a parent or family member would feel knowing they inadvertently gave their child whooping cough because they hadn’t received a vaccine or booster.
What advice would you give to parents who are concerned about having their children vaccinated?
I think there’s a lot of misinformation out there about the risk of vaccinations. Before a parent decided to opt out of vaccinations for their child, I would encourage them to have a candid conversation with their pediatrician to address any concerns they might have.
You were raised by your mom Rosellen, who was a nursery school teacher. What parenting lessons did you learn from her?
I think almost everything I learned about parenting came from my mom. She is also very involved with this campaign and is promoting the Grandparent’s Corner on soundsofpertussis.com. Grandparents can go on the site and mail a birth announcement to family and friends asking them to make sure they are up-to-date on their adult Tdap vaccine before meeting the new addition to your family. My mom often jokes that with my kids she’s getting a chance to raise children again, but that she’s doing a better job the second time around.
How do you balance your acting career and being a mom?
Thankfully, I have a hands-on husband and a lot of help from my mom. It’s a balancing act and I’ve learned that it’s okay to ask for help, and that there is no such thing as Supermom.
You’re involved in a lot of charitable activities. Is this a lesson you want to teach your own kids?
Yes, I think that giving back is a lesson that parents can teach their kids at a young age. My daughter Charlotte gets lots of toys as birthday presents, and we’ve explained to her that not all children are lucky enough to get toys. We help her to sort through her toys and donate some to charity.
On your new sitcom, “The Crazy Ones,” you portray a woman who runs a big ad agency with her dad, played by Robin Williams. What can you tell us about the show?
It’s a funny and heartwarming show, and I think working on the show is making me a better parent. Robin Williams is a talented, Academy Award-winning actor, and he is always saying crazy stuff and I’m not supposed to laugh; I believe it’s preparing me for when my kids say something embarrassing but funny, and I have to keep a straight face.
The Crazy Ones debuts on September 26 at 9pm/8pm Central on CBS.