18 February 2016

Third trimester pertussis vaccinations prove a success

The free pertussis vaccination program, offered to women in their third trimester of pregnancy, has proven a resounding success with more than 20,000 vaccinations given within the first 12 months.

WA Health Medical Coordinator, Prevention and Control Program, Communicable Disease Control Directorate Professor Paul Effler said that mothers who have the pertussis vaccine during pregnancy have higher levels of antibodies against the disease than mothers not vaccinated.

Newborns babies are at greatest risk of serious pertussis illness. Unfortunately, newborns can't be vaccinated until they reach six weeks of age and really need the additional doses of pertussis vaccine given at 4 and 6 months to be fully protected. That means there is a critical period of time when they remain vulnerable,” he said. 

Vaccination during the third trimester of pregnancy allows mothers to pass pertussis antibodies to their baby across the placenta, protecting them until they are old enough to be vaccinated.

The program, which commenced in March 2015, has had a better uptake than other similar programs in the world with 70.6 per cent of pregnant women in Western Australia receiving the vaccine.

Public Health England, who has been running its Prenatal Pertussis Immunisation Program (external site) since 2012, reported an uptake rate of 56 per cent for the 2014/15 period.

Professor Effler said that the success of WA Health’s program was in part due to the support of Greg and Catherine Hughes and the Light for Riley Foundation.

There is no doubt that the support of the Hughes family has helped create awareness of the importance of the pertussis vaccine during pregnancy, he said.

Pregnant women are actively requesting the campaign from their GP and through prenatal clinics – rather than waiting for the vaccine to be recommended.

Visit HealthyWA for more information on the pertussis vaccine in pregnancy.