Waikato District Health Board is taking the fight against whooping cough one step further and offering free vaccination against the illness to women from 20 weeks of pregnancy up to two weeks after the birth of their babies.
Several infants in the Waikato have already become very unwell from contracting whooping cough (or pertussis as it is clinically known) from family members, including baby Sativah Lammas whose struggle was captured on video while critically ill at Waikato Hospital and can be found at www.waikatodhb.health.nz/whooping.
"The whooping cough outbreak is a national one, but we feel so strongly about protecting young babies like Sativah here in the Waikato, that this DHB has taken it upon themselves to fund the vaccine for this special group to offer them the best protection possible," said Waikato DHB Screening Services manager Clare Coles.
Whooping cough is a very contagious illness that commonly results in bouts of severe coughing. The symptoms can last up to three months and can be especially severe in infants under one year of age.
"The vaccine works by reducing the risk of the pregnant mother contracting whooping cough," said Mrs Coles.
"This may reduce the chance of you spreading it to your baby when it is born if you should come into contact with a person who has the infection.
"It can help protect your baby for at least the first six weeks of life through antibodies that are passed through the placenta and through breast milk."
She said it was also a timely reminder to ensure all other children in the family have received their full course of vaccinations for whooping cough as well [these are free and part of the childhood vaccination programme].
"It is recommended that any close family members, such as fathers or grandparents, who have never had a dose of the vaccine and are likely to be in contact with an infant, also have the vaccination," said Mrs Coles.
"This is not funded by the Waikato District Health Board but can be discussed with your family doctor."
Call your general practice or medical centre to make an appointment to have the vaccination.
Let them know you are coming in for the pertussis booster vaccine, to ensure they have the vaccine on hand.
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.
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