An Open Letter
Dear Premiers and Ministers,
We represent some of the parents and relatives of babies across Australia that have died and battled to survive pertussis (whooping cough).
Firstly, we thank all governments that introduced free whooping cough boosters to parents and carers of newborns since mid 2009. However, we are distressed by the Victorian Government’s decision to cease the program by 30 June 2012, and fear other states will follow.
Why end a program when the epidemic is not over and health authorities worldwide are advising all adults in contact with newborns to have a whooping cough vaccination? Is it worth saving money at any cost?
Please, keep the free booster program in place until you have completed a rigorous review. Give the experts time to find the best and most cost-effective alternative.
Don’t just stop a program without a replacement, and leave parents confused and their babies unprotected.
Whooping cough is notoriously contagious and complex to control. There is no cure and whooping cough can kill 1 in 200 babies that catch it. Since 2008, eight precious Australian babies have died in an epidemic that reached over 38,500 cases in 2011. Without your intervention, we believe the hospitalisations and deaths would be much higher.
At least half of the babies infected with Whooping cough are hospitalised for weeks. We witnessed our tiny babies cough violently until they went blue, choke and vomit on the thick mucus, and stop breathing. It was hell knowing they were at risk of pneumonia, convulsions and brain damage. It was heartbreaking seeing some of our babies in intensive care, with ventilators breathing for them. Our babies fought hard to survive, but the battle continued at home, with months of coughing and sleepless nights as we monitored every breath.
For those of us whose babies have died, our lives have been shattered.
The only way to stop infants dying from whooping cough is to prevent them catching it. In Australia, cocooning is our only defence. Vulnerable newborns are not born with adequate antibodies to protect them against the disease, and do not gain immunity through breastfeeding. If they come into contact with someone infected during those first months, they have 80% chance of catching it. Babies are not protected until they are at least four months old and have received two doses of the whooping cough vaccine, and are not fully protected until after their third dose at six months.
Adults are a major reservoir of this disease, with an estimated 50% of infant cases infected by a family member and adults representing half of all notifications last year. The problem is that most adults don’t know they need a booster—only 11.3% nationally have had one—or that immunity gained from the vaccine or infection can wane as quickly as six year.