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Pregnant women will now get free whooping cough vaccines - thanks to the Hughes family.

Thanks to the awareness-raising work done by the Hughes family and other grieving parents, countless numbers of Australian children will now have a chance to survive and thrive.

Under a program approved on Friday, 2500 mothers-to-be in Western Australia will be eligible for a free whooping cough vaccination.

The announcement comes in the wake of the death of four-week-old Riley Hughes, who contracted whooping cough earlier this month.

Riley’s parents have welcomed the new program.

‘We only wish this had been implemented sooner, maybe then our son would still be alive,’ father Greg Hughes told the Sunday Times.

Kim Hames, WA Minister for Health, says the free vaccinations will be provided for pregnant women in their third trimester ‘effective immediately’.

The Hughes family have previously told their story to Mamamia and the work that they are doing to raise awareness about the need for mothers to be vaccinated against whooping cough in their third trimester.

Change has come too late to save their own precious children, but Australian parents now owe the Hughes and others a deep debt of gratitude for their bravery.

Their story follows…

A few days ago, a newborn baby lost his fight for life. His parents are now fighting to change the advice given to parents about vaccination for whooping cough to ensure that no more children die.

Less than a week ago, Catherine Hughes and her husband, Greg held their baby Riley in their arms. They breathed in his scent, embraced his warmth and said goodbye.

Riley died of whooping cough at just four-weeks of age. He was just 32 days old.

Read more: Riley was just four weeks old when he died from whooping cough on Tuesday.

His loss has devastated his parents. But what has blown their world apart is the realisation that his death could have been prevented if they had received critical medical advice about the whooping cough vaccination.

Now it’s a message that this desperately sad Australian mother wants other prospective mothers to hear and share.

Riley Hughes died aged 32 days.

Catherine and her husband were vaccinated against whooping cough – her friends and family were vaccinated against whooping cough.

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But not one medical expert told Catherine during her pregnancy to have a booster vaccine.

She assumed that the vaccine she had just three years earlier was enough.

She was wrong.

Catherine has since discovered that in the US and in some States in Australia women are advised that getting vaccinated in your last trimester of pregnancy against whooping cough in each and every pregnancy may just save your baby’s life.

More: Childhood vaccinations are dates you don’t want to forget. And now you never will.

Catherine has now been told that if she had a booster during the third trimester of her pregnancy her newborn baby would have immunity until his first vaccination.

There is a chance Riley would be alive.

Riley’s mother wants every woman to know they need to be vaccinated.

This information has shaken Riley’s mother Catherine to her core. But now her single focus is on ensuring that other mother’s know that a simple booster shot can protect their children from this deadly disease.

Catherine told Mamamia:

“While sitting in hospital, watching my son’s condition worsen and worsen, I found out women in some other countries are advised to have the whooping cough vaccine EVERY pregnancy. However here, this is not what happens here – I had my booster 3 years ago and was told this was enough. I was not told that a booster in the third trimester could provide antibodies that may help protect my unborn child.

Had I been advised, I would have had this booster while pregnant with Riley. Instead, I am left a heartbroken mum.”

Dr Ric Porter a highly regarded obstetrician with more than 30 years experience and resident medical expert on the Nine Network’s Today told Mamamia that there is evidence that vaccinations in the last trimester should be mandatory for every pregnancy. He says, “I personally think late pregnancy vaccination for whooping cough should be encouraged. This sometimes means a booster shot for the expectant mother with each pregnancy rather than every 5 years as previously recommended.”

Dr Porter maintains that the fact the individual States manage and fund the programs can be confusing. He says that “a more nationally coordinated programme is needed.”

Riley (via Facebook/LightforRiley)

In the US, the Centre for Disease Control now recommends that pregnant women receive the whooping cough vaccine during the third trimester of each pregnancy. They say “this replaces the original recommendation that pregnant women get the vaccine only if they had not previously received it.”

But that advice hasn’t been adopted in every State in Australia. And for many families, this delay in changing the recommendation has cost lives.

Want more? Try: This is what it’s like when your baby has whooping cough.

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Nowhere does this advice appear in the information provided by the Federal Department. It is buried deep in the advice of Queensland Health. It’s six months away in Victoria and “under advice” in NSW.

The WA Government has responded to Riley’s death, with Minister Kim Hames telling State Parliament this week that a new program that would give women in their third trimester of pregnancy free vaccines would be rolled out in as little as two weeks.

Whooping cough kills 250,000 children each year.

The NSW Government followed WA’s lead also announcing that they would provide free vaccines for pregnant women in their third trimester free of charge.

A statement to Mamamia from Dr Vicky Sheppeard, Director Communicable Diseases for the NSW Ministry of Health said that:

 “NSW Health is awaiting final advice from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) about the timing of the vaccine in pregnancy prior to commencing the new program.”

She said that “research suggests that by vaccinating pregnant women in their third trimester, ideally at 28-32 weeks, offers the best protection for babies until their first vaccination at six weeks of age.”

This is good news for prospective parents – but questions must be asked about why this advice wasn’t updated sooner.

Worldwide whooping cough – a preventable disease by vaccination – kills about 250,000 children each year.

Dr Porter is that everyone must be protected: “We should encourage ALL family members, friends and anyone who is likely to come in close contact with newborns to be vaccinated against whooping cough on a regular basis such as every 5 years.”

But the Hughes family are desperate to spread the word that pregnant mothers should receive a booster shot in their third trimester.

Riley’s parents, Catherine and Greg say, “As a family, we know that this is only the tip of the iceberg. There are multiple issues surrounding the elimination of preventable diseases. We fully intend on tackling all these issues down the track in honour of our beautiful boy’s legacy.”

Riley Hughes (via Facebook/LightforRiley)

Just days after the devastating death of their baby born the couple has established a Facebook page Light for Riley to spread awareness about the importance of vaccines. In conjunction with the Princess Margaret Hospital in Western Australia they have also established the Everyday Hero- Light for Riley donation page, which has raised over $34,000.

The Hughes family one aim is to ensure that no parent ever has to endure the heartache they have suffered at the hands of a preventable disease.

To donate to the Everyday Hero Light for Riley donation page go here.

To support the Light for Riley Facebook page go here. 

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