The free whooping-cough vaccine, which has been provided to new mothers on the north coast for the past four years, will be withdrawn from Monday, 15 July.
During the past four years, the government provided more than one million doses of free whooping-cough vaccine to new mums through their GPs.
But NSW Health says withdrawing the free vaccine will not affect immunisation rates on the north coast, an area renowned for historically low vaccination rates.
NSW Health’s director of communicable diseases, Dr Vicky Sheppeard, said expert advice showed that to be most effective, the vaccine had to be given before the baby is born.
‘Research by NSW Health and the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance confirms it’s best to get vaccinated before conception, during the third trimester of pregnancy or, failing that, at soon as possible after delivery,’ Dr Sheppeard said.
‘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.’
She also told ABC North Coast this morning that the barriers to vaccination on the north coast were not mainly based around cost of the vaccine, but that other issues had to be addressed and ‘that even a free vaccine won’t necessarily influence the uptake’.
The outgoing 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 epidemic’s peak in December 2008, and numbers of notifications were high through 2009 and again in 2011.
However in recent months notifications have fallen to fewer than 200 per month.
‘We’re encouraged to see that the epidemic period has passed,’ Dr Sheppeard said.
‘Nevertheless there is no room for complacency and we want to ensure that expectant parents and their doctors are aware of the optimal protection for newborns from whooping cough.’
To help control outbreaks in 2009–2011, NSW Health provided free whooping-cough vaccine for adults in close contact with infants. Last July NSW Health refocused its adult whooping-cough vaccine strategy to new mothers in maternity units.
The latest findings of the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance found that vaccinating mothers before the birth of the child reduced the risk of whooping cough by half.
‘In light of this information, we recommend women ensure they talk with their GP about vaccination prior to conceiving or else have the vaccine during their third trimester,’ Dr Sheppeard said.
Children of mothers who receive the vaccine in the third trimester will require an additional booster dose at 18 months of age, as maternal antibodies may interfere with an infant’s immune response.
‘Women can purchase the whooping-cough vaccine on prescription from their obstetrician or GP,’ she said.
‘Having the vaccine before the baby is born helps protect the most vulnerable from this potentially life-threatening disease.
‘It is also 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.
‘Whooping cough is easily spread to new babies, so it’s important to keep people with coughs away from them, in case they have whooping cough or other nasty infections,’ Dr Sheppeard said.
For further information visit NSW Health Immunisation Website www.health.nsw.gov.au/immunisation.