Whooping cough vaccination 'cocooning' call

A Dunedin Hospital paediatrician says parents and grandparents around babies should be vaccinated against whooping cough.

Dr Pam Jackson said evidence supported so-called "cocooning" - the practice of vaccinating adults to protect babies - as babies were particularly vulnerable to the potentially deadly disease.

"While we have this epidemic around, it would be a very good idea."

While it was a common public health strategy overseas, "cocooning" was not funded in New Zealand, and not part of the Ministry of Health's official strategy, she said.

Because it was not part of official advice, the vaccine was not funded and people had to pay.

Dr Jackson said it was common for grandparents visiting grandchildren in Australia to be advised to be vaccinated before leaving.

Invercargill-based Michelle Rudgley, of the Immunisation Awareness Society, was concerned by the push for more vaccinations.

"One day they are really going to have to accept that the pertussis [whooping cough] vaccine is useless and no matter how many boosters you have it is not going to stop the occurrence of whooping cough and the best bet is for parents to educate themselves on how to look after their children should they develop it.

"The best way to do that is high doses of vitamin C. It is a toxin-mediated illness, so vitamin C is the way to go and lots of it," Ms Rudgley said.

Ministry of Health immunisation manager David Wansbrough said there was insufficient evidence to justify public funding, but the ministry recommended those in direct contact with newborns be vaccinated.

"The cocoon strategy for whooping cough - vaccinating parents and caregivers for newborns - is being used overseas but there isn't enough evidence yet about whether it works to justify public funding."

"The ministry recommends that household contacts of newborns get immunised since immunity [from both the disease and the vaccine] wears off over time."

The ministry funded five whooping cough vaccines for children, including boosters at ages 4 and 11.

"The most important strategy is to get babies immunised on time by 6 months because that is when they are most vulnerable."

In August, 119 whooping cough cases were notified to ESR, compared with 74 at the corresponding time last year.



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