22 June 2012
New Strategy To Control Whooping Cough Spread In NSW
After a three year vaccination campaign that provided free whooping cough vaccine to carers of new babies, from 1 July NSW Health will refocus its adult whooping cough vaccine strategy to new mothers in maternity units. New mothers can also receive the free vaccination from their GP within two weeks of giving birth.
Dr McAnulty, Director of Health Protection said that although the evidence is not in yet, vaccinating new mothers is most likely to be effective in protecting their new baby if the vaccine is given either before pregnancy or very soon after the birth of the baby.
“A lot of parents don’t get vaccinated until a few weeks after birth which is too late to protect the most vulnerable very young babies,” said Dr McAnulty.
“In fact its best to get vaccinated before pregnancy, which is one of the reasons that NSW Health provides free vaccine to high school children.
"Research has found that while babies can be infected from range of different people if they have whooping cough, the single most common source of infection seems to be their mother if she has whooping cough herself. This is not really surprising as mothers are of course the people who spend most time with new babies.”
“Whooping cough is easily spread to new babies, so its important to keep people with coughs away from them, in case they have whooping cough or other nasty infections,” said Dr McAnulty.
In 2011 the Australian Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee rejected two applications for funding of adult whooping cough vaccines for new parents as part of routine funding through the National Immunisation Program, on the basis of uncertain clinical effectiveness and highly uncertain cost effectiveness.
The current strategy was developed in response to a whooping cough epidemic that began in 2008. Almost 2,000 cases (1,999) were notified in NSW at the epidemics peak in December 2008, and numbers of notifications were high through 2009 and again in 2011.
However in recent month notifications have fallen to around 500 per month (see: http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/data/diseases/pertussis.asp).
The initial provision of free vaccine to carers of an infant was based on the occurrence of the whooping cough epidemic and expert advice based on available evidence at the time.
“Since the fall in cases, PBAC’s review, new data about the source of infant’s infection, new data indicating that many parents get vaccinated too late for the vaccine to be most effective, and further advice from NSW Health’s expert panel on whooping cough, the program has been refocused to those who seem most important to vaccinate: new mothers.” said Dr McAnulty.
The program will continue until more definitive evidence becomes available about the effectiveness of vaccinating adults to protect new babies. NSW Health is collaborating with the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance in a study to assess the effectiveness of this strategy.
Its vital that parents ensure all their children are up to date with their vaccinations, to minimise the risk of whooping cough circulating in the family. Adults in close contact with young babies should discuss the benefits of the vaccine, which is available on prescription, with their GP.
NSW Health will provide fact sheets about the changes to new mothers in maternity units and GP’s.
For further information please visit NSW Health Immunisation Website www.health.nsw.gov.au/immunisation
For a range of health information, go online to www.health.nsw.gov.au