Pregnant women should routinely be given a taxpayer-funded whooping cough jab to protect their babies from the next epidemic in Australia, a leading expert will recommend today.
Expectant dads, siblings and grandparents should also get booster vaccinations to "cocoon" vulnerable newborns, who are most likely to suffer severe complications or die from the disease, under the new proposal.
If parents receive a booster shot pre-birth, new research shows their baby is about half as likely to develop whooping cough as those who don't – but there is no proven benefit if the mother delays having it until after her baby is born.
At the Australasian Society for Infectious Diseases (ASID) meeting in Adelaide today, Dr Tom Snelling will also suggest the Federal government consider reintroducing a dose of the older "whole cell" whooping cough vaccine to offer more robust protection.
However, Australia and many other countries have switched to newer "acellular" vaccines because they cause less short-term side effects than the whole cell ones.
Dr Snellings recommendation to vaccinate pregnant women is in line with other countries – but his proposal to give booster shots to siblings is more controversial as this isn't the case anywhere else in the world.
It would mean all brothers and sisters of newborns would get jabs of they hadn't had one in the past two to three years, which would include most three-year-olds and primary school kids.
"The UK and USA have moved ahead of Australia to clearly recommend routine immunisation in pregnancy," says Dr Snelling. "I think on the basis of our data Australia should follow suit before the next epidemic occurs."
Dr Snelling's research shows siblings are a major but under-recognised source of infection for babies.
"Cocooning" infants by vaccinating their immediate families could be expensive, with booster shots costing about $50 each, unless the Federal government subsidised it.