The Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) has agreed to fund whooping cough (pertussis) immunisation for pregnant women and mothers of newborn infants.
Women who are more than 30 weeks' pregnant and mothers up to two weeks after child birth are eligible for the free immunisation.
Canterbury Medical Officer of Health Dr Ramon Pink says Canterbury's current pertussis epidemic warrants expanding the availability of the subsidised pertussis vaccine.
"Babies are most vulnerable to severe outcomes of contracting pertussis. Extending the availability of the free vaccine to women who are between 30 and 36 weeks pregnant and to mothers up to two weeks after childbirth, will result in increased immunity in the newborn infant, as well as in the mother," Ramon says.
CDHB Paediatric Dr Tony Walls says whooping cough is a serious illness in babies.
"The best way for a mother to protect her new baby from whooping cough is to make sure both she and her family have been vaccinated before the baby is born. To protect older babies it is important that they all receive their vaccinations on time," Tony says.
There have been 515 confirmed or probable cases of pertussis in the Canterbury region since August 2011. Twenty-seven babies under one year have had pertussis and of these 15, or 56 percent, have been hospitalised. Two babies have been sent to Starship Hospital for treatment.
Immunisation is the best step people can take to prevent pertussis. Children receive free immunisation against pertussis as part of the National Immunisation Schedule. Ensuring children get their vaccinations on time - at six weeks, three and five months and four and 11 years old – is crucial to controlling the current epidemic, Ramon says.
As pertussis immunity wanes with age, a booster vaccination is recommended for households with young babies and at 10 yearly intervals for healthcare and early childhood education workers who work with infants, Ramon says. The booster vaccination for these groups is not subsidised by the CDHB. Other steps people can take besides immunisation to help protect their families and themselves include:
Pregnant women should contact their Lead Maternity Carer (LMC) or General Practice team for more information about getting vaccinated for pertussis.
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