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Tony Ryall

12 December, 2012

Free whooping cough immunisation for more pregnant women

A free whooping cough vaccine will be available to all pregnant women from 1 January 2013 to help protect their new-born babies from this serious disease.

“International research shows the most effective way to protect babies before they are immunised, is to vaccinate the mother during pregnancy so antibodies are passed on to the baby,” says Health Minister Tony Ryall.

There have been 6,700 notified cases of whooping cough since August last year – of which over 200 were babies under one year of age who required hospital treatment.

“Babies are most vulnerable to whooping cough. The severe coughing can cause babies to stop breathing and can lead to blindness, brain damage, and in severe cases, death,” says Mr Ryall.

“Whooping cough is a very contagious disease. Figures show that 70 per cent of babies who contract the disease in the first few weeks of life, catch it from their parents or other close family members.

“This free maternal vaccination will also reduce the risk of pregnant women contracting whooping cough and passing it on to their baby.

“Immunisation is the best way to provide on-going protection for babies through childhood. I encourage parents to have their children vaccinated on time at six weeks, three and five months.

“From the 1 January 2013 and until the outbreak finishes, all pregnant women can get a free Boostrix vaccine between 28 and 38 weeks of pregnancy from their GP. This is part of an effort to reduce the impact of the outbreak on those most vulnerable to the disease.

A number of district health boards have been offering the vaccine free to pregnant women for the past few months.

Since August 2011 New Zealand has had an outbreak of whooping cough, as have other countries including the UK and the US. The UK has also recently started a temporary programme offering whooping cough vaccination to pregnant women.