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Free Whooping Cough Vaccine Essential This Season

Media Release

Date: 30 November 2012

Free Whooping Cough Vaccine Essential This Season

Caption: Hamilton mother of three Amy Thomsen recently received Waikato DHB's free whooping cough immunisation to help protect twin girls Hudson and Georgia.

Infants are at increased risk of falling prey to the national whooping cough (pertussis) epidemic as families gather to celebrate Christmas.

During this high-risk period Waikato DHB is urging pregnant women in the Waikato region to make the most of its free whooping cough immunisation.

The DHB is offering this vaccination through regional GP practices to women from 20 weeks of pregnancy up to a fortnight after the birth of their babies.

The vaccine reduces the risk of the pregnant mother contracting whooping cough and can help protect the baby for at least the first six weeks of life through antibodies passed through the placenta and through breast milk.

“The vaccine is particularly important at this time of year because 70 per cent of babies contract whooping cough from household contact,” said Waikato DHB immunisation coordinator Kim Hunter.

“Christmas increases the risk of babies contracting whooping cough. Families, who are carrying it, come together and pass it onto babies who are much more vulnerable. The illness is not seasonal so it’s vital we don’t let our guard down just because winter is over.”

Whooping cough is a very contagious illness that commonly results in bouts of severe coughing.

“The illness can cause babies to stop breathing. Severe whooping cough can lead to pneumonia, collapsed lungs, or even brain damage or death,” said Mrs Hunter.

“It’s frightening for parents to see, and we are continuing to have babies hospitalised in the Waikato.”

The symptoms can last up to three months and can be especially severe in infants under one year of age.

“This free maternal vaccination is key for protecting babies who are too young to be vaccinated. We’re also recommending that partners, siblings, and extended family members go to their GP to be vaccinated.”

Hamilton mother of three Amy Thomsen recently received the free immunisation.

"I was very pleased to be able to do something to provide some early protection for my newborn twin babies during this whooping cough outbreak.

“I would really encourage all pregnant women to get their vaccinations too so they can protect their precious babies, and then get the babies immunised on time at six weeks of age," she said.

Mrs Hunter expressed further concern that babies are not getting vaccinated on time.

“All babies should all be fully vaccinated by five months. Sadly, only 67 per cent of six-month-old babies are vaccinated and only 80 per cent of eight month old babies are vaccinated,” she said.

Childhood vaccination is free for all infants aged six weeks, three months and five months and these three doses of vaccine during infancy will protect about 80 per cent of recipients from whooping cough infection through to about 4-6 years of age.

“Being vaccinated on time, every time, dramatically decreases the risk of infant hospitalisation.”

Facts about pertussis and the vaccine:

• Around seven out of 10 babies who get pertussis before the age of six months need hospitalisation, and one in 30 of those hospitalised die from pertussis infection.
• Severe coughing can temporarily stop the oxygen supply to the brain (hypoxia). In around two per 1000 children, pertussis leads to permanent brain damage, paralysis, deafness, or blindness.
• Secondary infections such as pneumonia and ear infections can also occur.
• The disease is usually milder in adolescents and adults.
• The pertussis vaccine (Tdap) is a subunit vaccine. Subunit vaccines are not live and are generally considered safe in pregnancy. "Live” vaccines are not recommended in pregnancy.
• The vaccine provides protection against whooping cough to 84 - 88 per cent of those who receive it.

Check out our media releases on www.waikatodhb.health.nz/news or


About Waikato District Health Board and Health Waikato:

Waikato DHB is responsible for planning, funding and providing quality health and disability support services for the 372,865 people living in the Waikato DHB region. It has an annual turnover of $1.2 billion and employs more than 6000 people.

Health Waikato is the DHB’s main provider of hospital and health services with an annual budget of more than $701 million and 5238 staff. It has six groups across five hospital sites, three primary birthing units, two continuing care facilities and 20 community bases offering a comprehensive range of primary, secondary and tertiary health services.

A wide range of independent providers deliver other Waikato DHB-funded health services - including primary health, pharmacies and community laboratories.


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