Tagata Pasifika

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Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

NZ could be at start of whooping cough outbreak, public health expert warns

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air
Dr Nikki Turner says a rise in case numbers was more likely in areas like south Auckland where there were low vaccination rates. Photo: The Solomon Times
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Local Democracy Reporting | Free Public Interest News Service

The public needs to be made aware of the potentially deadly effects of whooping cough after two recent deaths from the condition, a public health expert has warned.

Babies in New Zealand can be jabbed – for free – against whooping cough as part of childhood immunisations, with booster doses given to children aged 4 and 11.

Dr Nikki Turner is the medical director of the University of Auckland’s Immunisation Advisory Centre.

She said a rise in case numbers was more likely in areas like south Auckland where there were low vaccination rates.

Figures from the Ministry of Health for between October 1 and December 31, 2022, showed 67.9% of children in Counties Manukau were fully vaccinated at 6 months old.

In comparison, there were 74.3% of children in Auckland, 71.6% in Waitemata and 68.7% nationwide.

Dr Nikki Turner is the medical director of the University of Auckland’s Immunisation Advisory Centre and says a rise in case numbers is likely in areas like south Auckland where there are lower vaccination rates for young children.

“We are expecting this to be the beginning of the next epidemic of whooping cough which we see every three to five years,” Turner said.

“We can’t stop it from spreading through the community, but we can protect our young infants.”

Turner said young children were most at risk.

“The key way we can protect them is to ensure mums are vaccinated and infants get their first immunisations at 6 weeks, 3 months and 5 months.”

In January she said vaccination rates in areas like south Auckland were in a state of crisis as healthcare providers were stuck in a post-Covid-19 catch-up phase.

A nationwide outbreak of whooping cough in 2017 saw more than 1300 cases.

According to the Ministry of Health, whooping cough (pertussis) is a highly infectious disease that is spread through coughing and sneezing. It is a serious condition that leads to prolonged coughing and can be life-threatening.

Symptoms usually appear a week after a person becomes infected and include a blocked or runny nose, sneezing, mild fever and persistent coughing. It is treated with antibiotics.

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.

The condition gets its name from the whooping sound people make gasping for air between coughing.

Babies who catch it may have trouble breathing, feeding and may need hospital care. The condition can also lead to serious complications such as pneumonia and brain damage.

Turuki Healthcare CEO Te Puea Winiata said getting the child vaccination rates up in Counties Manukau was more important than ever.

“The big thing we need to get our heads around is immunising our children in the under five age group,” she said.

“But we can only do that as fast as whānau are willing to engage around immunisation. No matter how we try to get around it. It’s like with the Covid-19 vaccination programme, our people came to us when they were ready.”

But Winiata said it is already working on ways it can proactively engage with families about getting their children immunised.

Local democracy reporting

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