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Vaccine restrictions triggered amid dramatic rise in whooping cough cases

December 18, 2015
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14329622976_2ae10f5741_zAn outbreak of whooping cough has sparked such a rush on vaccinations that remaining stock will be limited to small children and pregnant women.

Nearly three times as many people contracted whooping cough this year than last year – with 11,000 notifications to NSW Health compared with 3000 in 2014.

NSW Health director of communicable diseases Vicky Sheppeard​ said supplies of the vaccine had been low for most of the year.

“That’s resulted partly from the outbreaks which have generated demand, and also NSW and all states and territories have purchased a lot of the vaccine for pregnant women, so that has impacted the domestic supply.”

Since NSW started offering the vaccine to pregnant women in April, 103,000 doses of the vaccine have been distributed to general practices in NSW. They are also available to healthcare workers.

Other patients have been told they will be unable to get the vaccine until the middle of 2016.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration said manufacturers of the vaccine – Sanofi and GSK – had recently signalled that their private supplies of the vaccine had run out. Sanofi’s alternative product, Adacel-Polio, was also under constrained supply.

“There is no shortage of pertussis-containing vaccines for the National Immunisation Program and the state/territory funded programs,” the federal health department said in a statement.

“This means that, for those most vulnerable to pertussis, vaccine supply is secured.”

Under the national vaccination program, children are vaccinated at two months, four months, six months, four years and in the first year of high school.

A spokeswoman for GSK said there had been an “unprecedented” number of requests for its Boostrix vaccine this year and supply had been interrupted.

“GSK continues to manage and monitor the situation and acknowledges there may be temporary disruption to some supply at surgery and wholesaler level,” she said.

University of Sydney public health researcher Julie-Anne Leask said 96 per cent of parents supported vaccination.

“And because of that and the high level of outrage around whooping cough you get a lot of willingness in the community for adults to get up to date. There’s been a lot of publicity and encouragement for people to get themselves protected against whooping cough, so people are doing the right thing, but it’s probably created this unexpected demand,” Associate Professor Leask said.

Whooping cough typically surges every three to four years, when immunity from the last outbreak is waning within the community. The last big outbreak was in 2011-12.

A four-week-old baby died from whooping cough in Perth in March this year, but there have been no recorded fatalities in NSW.

The last known death from whooping cough in NSW was an unvaccinated baby who died late last year.

Published by: The Hawksbury Gazette 16/12/15

First published by the Sydney Morning Herald