Pregnant women are now advised to have whooping cough vaccinations earlier to give their babies the best possible protection.
If you’ve ever had whooping cough or pertussis, you wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy. My daughters, aged seven and 11 years, both had it earlier this year, despite having had all their required vaccinations. And while they both recovered quickly, the cough continued for about three months.
New guidelines for vaccination
However, for babies and young children, whooping cough is highly dangerous, even life-threatening. According to the Australian Government Department of Health, every year an average of one death and more than 200 hospitalisations related to pertussis occur in infants less than six months of age. These children are too young to be fully immunised, so new guidelines have been set out, advising pregnant women to have the whooping cough vaccination from 20 weeks of pregnancy rather than 28 weeks.
How will this help?
According to SA Health’s Acting Chief Medical Officer, Dr Nicola Spurrier, vaccination during pregnancy can reduce the risk of whooping cough in young infants by 90 percent.
“Babies less than six months of age are too young to be fully immunised against whooping cough and are at higher risk of severe disease, so it is important for mum to receive the vaccine which gives babies some protection,” says Dr Spurrier. “After reviewing the evidence, the optimal timing to receive the vaccine has been revised, and pregnant women can now receive the vaccine earlier to maximise protection for their infant if he or she is born pre-term.”
Whooping cough is extremely severe, and according to Dr Spurrier, it causes around 250,000 deaths in children worldwide each year, with even more children being hospitalised from the disease. “The vaccine is free for pregnant women, so I urge all expectant mothers to speak to their midwife or obstetrician about getting immunised,” she says.
Women’s and Children’s Hospital nurse consultant, Breda MacDonald, believes that vaccination is the best form of protection, and pregnant mothers should be vigilant about receiving the shot. “The whooping cough vaccine should be given in each pregnancy, even pregnancies close together, to give the best protection for each baby until they can complete their primary whooping cough immunisations at six months of age,” she says.
MORE Vaccines and Immunisations
And it’s not only pregnant women who should be vaccinated. The whooping cough vaccination is recommended for anyone who plays a part in caring for young babies under the age of six months, including fathers, partners, grandparents, siblings and other carers.
“Family members, particularly parents, are the source of infection in infants in more than 50 percent of cases, so we strongly encourage anyone who is coming into close contact with babies to have the shot,” says Breda.
While my daughters’ recent bouts of whooping cough were fairly mild, I realised how worse it might have been, had they not been previously vaccinated. And had they been under six months, the situation would have been devastating. We’re incredibly lucky today, to be able to prevent this disease through vaccination. And it’s an important consideration for pregnant women and in fact, anyone who has contact with newborn babies and young children. We want to give them all the very best in life – and being free from whooping cough is a great place to start.