Keep babies safe

A Marlborough Primary Health Organisation committee will do more to promote a Ministry of Health scheme that offers free whooping cough vaccinations to pregnant women.

The clinical governance committee last night agreed to distribute posters throughout the region to highlight the risks of pregnant women passing the disease on to their babies.

It decided to extend the poster-drop beyond the usual GP practices and hospital sites to anywhere pregnant women might see them.

Jean Wilson, a voluntary co-ordinator of committees for the Ministry of Social Development and Senior Citizens, also suggested targeting grandparents.

"They should make sure their grandchildren are immunised," she said. "Adults can give it to babies so quickly."

PHO committee chairwoman and Blenheim GP Ros Gellatly said Marlborough had one of the highest rates of whooping cough in New Zealand.

"It's very important that we start to promote this [free vaccination]," she said. "If a parent has that sort of cough, which might not be quite the same in adults, they need to be seen [by a GP] quickly because an antibiotic is only effective for the first few weeks."

Immunisation against whooping cough was made free by the Ministry of Health from the start of the year to women in their third trimester of pregnancy.

It was hoped to protect babies from the disease by ensuring their mothers did not contract whooping cough during pregnancy and pass it on after birth.

Antibodies were also passed between mother and baby, protecting the infant before its vaccination shots at six weeks, three months and five months.

Last month, more than 1100 cases of whooping cough were notified in Marlborough, Nelson and Tasman since the outbreak started in August 2011, with 183 of those cases in Marlborough.

More than 50 of the cases were babies under one year, and about 10 of those required hospital treatment. A lot of those babies were too young to be vaccinated.

Ms Gellatly said the number of whooping cough cases in Marlborough appeared to be rising again.

Francis St Medical GP Guy Gardiner said the outbreak was a result of children not being immunised.

The Marlborough Express