Old vaccine for whooping cough is best

Australia should consider switching back to the old vaccine for whooping cough instead of the pared-down version that may have contributed to a dramatic rise in the disease, according to a Perth expert.

Telethon Kids Institute paediatrician and vaccine expert Tom Snelling, who is speaking at a conference in Adelaide today, said health authorities should also look at offering a booster vaccine for toddlers and pregnant women.

Dr Snelling has proposed re- introducing one dose of the older whole cell vaccine in place of the new acellular vaccine, which uses only part of the whooping cough bacterium so has fewer side effects but is not as effective.

He said whooping cough cases had soared in Australia between 2008 and 2012, particularly in school-aged children and pre-schoolers.

"Improved detection is part of the explanation but we propose that the switch from whole cell to acellular vaccines may also be partly responsible," Dr Snelling said.

"Data from our group and others show that protection from acellular vaccines is relatively short lived.

"Animal studies also suggest that, while effective for personal protection, acellular vaccines are less effective than whole cell vaccines for reducing transmission of infection to others."

He said Australia needed to rethink strategies to prevent whooping cough in newborn babies, including booster vaccinations for siblings as well as parents, grandparents and other close contacts.

Currently, the vaccine is recommended and funded as a three-dose schedule at two, four and six months of age, with boosters given at four years and between 10 and 15.

Dr Snelling said there should be a funded vaccination program for pregnant women.

"The UK and US have moved ahead of Australia to clearly recommend routine immunisation in pregnancy," he said.

"On the basis of our data, Australia should follow suit before the next epidemic occurs."

The West Australian

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