Free whooping cough vaccine a step towards health equity: Researcher

Doug Hendrie

7/05/2018 2:58:13 PM

A GP and public health researcher has hailed news that whooping cough vaccine will be free for every pregnant woman in Australia as a step towards more equitable health outcomes.

Free for the first time, whooping cough vaccine can provide Australian mothers-to-be with greater peace of mind.
Free for the first time, whooping cough vaccine can provide Australian mothers-to-be with greater peace of mind.

Dr Rosalie Schultz believes free vaccinations for illnesses like whooping cough and influenza are a vital way for GPs to promote health equity.
‘Immunisation achieves its greatest benefit in people who are most socially disadvantaged,’ she told newsGP. ‘But for immunisations to achieve this, it needs to be free. Otherwise, it will provide benefits to people with relatively less need but who can afford it.’
The Federal Government is expected to announce that all pregnant women will be offered a free whooping cough vaccine under Tuesday’s Federal Budget. The $40 million program will allow the vaccine to be added to the National Immunisation Program.
Making the whooping cough vaccine available to pregnant women would be a public health intervention directly promoting equity in contrast to healthy living programs more able to be undertaken by wealthier people, Dr Schultz said.
‘I’m thrilled that this vaccine will soon be available to all pregnant women. We've moved on from the day when we feared immunisation in pregnancy, and we now realise the benefits for pregnant women and young infants of immunisation in pregnancy to protect both mother and newborn,’ she said.
‘Free whooping cough and flu vaccine for pregnant women in Australia are milestone public health interventions of recent years.’
Many states already offered the vaccine free to mothers-to-be in the third trimester.
Whooping cough can cause pneumonia, brain damage or even death. Babies under six months old are most at risk, but newborns cannot be vaccinated until six weeks after birth, meaning the only way to achieve full coverage is vaccination of the mother during the third trimester of pregnancy.
The vaccine roll-out comes in the wake of several deaths of babies from the disease, and a campaign by grieving families to encourage pregnant women to get vaccinated.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has urged all mums-to-be to get vaccinated.
‘I know what a devastating impact this disease can have on families and beautiful young children like Dana McCaffery and Riley Hughes,’ he said, referring to two infants who died from the disease.
Medical experts from the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee and the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation investigated the vaccine’s safety and determined it to be safe and effective.

Update: This article originally incorrectly stated whooping cough is a virus. The error has since been corrected.

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