More needs to be done to protect newborn babies from whooping cough, says a leading infections expert.
All couples should be vaccinated if they are planning a family, and pregnant women should definitely receive a shot by the third trimester, says Dr Tom Snelling, a speaker at an Australasian Society for Infectious Diseases meeting in Adelaide.
Siblings should receive a booster at 18 months or if it is three years since their last shot.
It’s essential that everyone is protected before the baby is born, says Dr Snelling.
At present, a three-dose schedule is recommended and funded for infants aged two, four and six months. Boosters are given at four years and at 10 to 15 years.
Dr Snelling wants Australia to follow the UK’s lead and fund vaccinations for pregnant women.
All adults coming into contact with newborn babies should have a shot every five years, says Dr Snelling of the Telethon Kids Institute in Perth.
This includes grandparents.
“If you can effectively protect family members against whooping cough you can protect the newborn baby.”
Dr Snelling has participated in research that shows a newborn’s risk of whooping cough is halved if both parents are vaccinated before birth.
The benefit of vaccinating mothers after delivery is less certain.
“This was the first study to show newborn infants can be indirectly protected by vaccinating parents,” says Dr Snelling.
People do not have to be feeling sick to pass on the infection.
“Most babies exposed to whooping cough before they are vaccinated will be infected.
“Most will need hospital care. Some will need to spend time in intensive care and there is a risk of death.”
Although the rate of infection is in decline after the 2008-2012 outbreak, there is almost certain to be another rise.
“We need to focus on what we have learned from the epidemic.
“What we should be doing is focusing on strategies that best protect babies who are too young to receive the vaccine.”