There has been a good uptake of free whooping cough vaccine by pregnant women in the Waikato. However the ongoing national whooping cough (pertussis) epidemic is still resulting in many babies hospitalised over the summer months because they were not vaccinated or vaccinated late.
“The distress for babies and their parents is avoidable by pregnant women taking up the offer of free vaccination and then making sure their babies receive on-time immunisation for their babies.”
The Boostrix vaccine has been available free since the start of September 2012.
Kim Hunter, clinical nurse coordinator Immunisation at Waikato District Health Board said an increase was expected over the Christmas period with families coming together and increasing the opportunity for spread of disease.
“We are continuing to struggle with babies not being immunised on time at six weeks of age or not being immunised at all. We have had baby after baby over the summer months hospitalised with pertussis,” she said. “Families need to take this epidemic seriously.”
The vaccine works by reducing the risk of the pregnant mother contracting whooping cough and spreading it to her vulnerable baby when it is born. It is a single shot of vaccine sometime between 20 weeks gestation and two weeks after the birth.
The vaccination can help protect the baby for at least the first six weeks of life through antibodies that are passed through the placenta and through breast milk. After that it is vital for babies to follow a standard immunisation programme at 6 weeks, 3 months and 5 months which protects against whooping cough and several other illnesses.
Kim Hunter said more than 160 women have been vaccinated at Waikato Hospital, and others through their primary care health providers and GPs.
“It is a simple step that can prevent a lot of suffering for the baby later.”
She said ideally other household contacts with pregnant women are also immunised as well as all adults that work with children and families.
“There is no one strategy that is going to end this epidemic, its going to take all we can throw at it and for a sustained timeframe,” she said.
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