Doctor calls for more immunisations as whooping cough spreads

Thu, Mar 23

A paediatrician is calling on parents to get their children immunised against whooping cough after two babies under the age of one died from the infection.

The highly infectious illness, which causes uncontrollable coughing and difficulty breathing, has been spreading in New Zealand, with health officials saying, “we’re on the brink of an outbreak”.

Māori paediatrician Owen Sinclair told Breakfast it was “devastating” that two babies have died and urged parents to get their children immunised.

He said doing that will make tragedies avoidable in the future.

“These were potentially avoidable events with good vaccination rates,” he said.

All babies in New Zealand can be immunised for free against whooping cough as part of their childhood immunisations, with booster doses given to children at four and 11 years of age.

In the past, New Zealand has struggled to immunise well, he said, and it’s important to make sure that everyone is being vaccinated properly.

He said there are “significant systemic barriers to groups accessing immunisation”.

“It’s quite a complex task; you have to register, you have to have a phone, you have to have an address, you have to be able to get there.

“So those groups that struggle with socio-economic status, which is Maori in New Zealand, that means they’re at risk of under-immunisation.”

In the short term, Sinclair is asking anyone who notices the symptoms of whooping cough in their baby to see a doctor immediately.

“If that happens, especially if your child is not immunised, you need to seek help.”

He said there is nothing that can stop infection; only when people are properly immunised will its spread slow down.

“As soon as your child is 6 weeks old, get them immunised on that day,” he said.

Or alternatively, women can get maternal immunisation, which most pharmacies across the country do.

“It makes it easier,” he said.