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Pertussis cocooning to be rolled back

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9th May 2012
Neil Bramwell   all articles by this author

AUSTRALIA'S‘ cocooning strategy’ of free pertussis vaccination for parents and carers of newborn children is set to end after experts advised the government there was no clear evidence of benefit.

Victoria is the latest state to cease funding of the program - originally implemented to combat a whooping cough epidemic across Australia - following advice from the  Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC).

A spokesperson for the Victorian Department of Health said: “The assessment of the PBAC is based on clinical evidence that the program is not as effective as we might have thought. This is not a budgetary decision”.

Professor Terry Nolan, chairman of the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) said South Australia and ACT had already discontinued their programs, while Queensland and NSW were considering cessation.

Western Australia, where pertussis is still at peak epidemic levels and where the program started only last year, and NT, the first state to implement the cocooning strategy, were expected to continue offering the free vaccine, he said.

“It’s a very sensitive political issue but people need to understand that this funding was provided to combat an epidemic, which is well and truly on the wane,” he said.

But immunisation experts say that mothers should still consider paying for immunisation as soon as possible after birth in order to minimise the chances of passing on pertussis to their newborn babies.

In the US, cocooning has been abandoned in favour of vaccinating women during pregnancy (MO 5 July 2011).

 Professor Peter McIntyre, chairman of the ATAGI working party on pertussis, said “individual doctors might advise giving the antepartum vaccine to pregnant women in view of what’s happening in the US”.

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