New study to time whooping cough vaccinations

By Jessica Tyson

A researcher from the University of Auckland has been granted $210,000 to find the best time for new-borns to be given their whooping cough vaccination.

Dr Helen Petousis-Harris received the grant from PHARMAC and the Health Research Council of New Zealand to test the protective effect that maternal vaccination offers against whooping cough, taking into account the effect of baby's own first vaccine.

In New Zealand, vaccines are administered at six weeks old but in most other high-income countries they are given at eight weeks.

Combined with maternal vaccination, Petousis-Harris says eight week vaccinations could offer additional protection for infants but a major question remains around the additive benefit or risk posed by immunisation at an earlier age.

She suspects that antibodies passed on from mother to baby might interfere with an infant's primary immune response when receiving their first pertussis vaccine.

"Giving vaccines to pregnant women is a very effective way to protect babies in their first weeks of life and many countries have adopted this strategy.  But we might be able to improve the effectiveness even more by looking at how we time things," she says.

Meanwhile, mother-to-be Louise Tyson of Te Ātihaunui-ā-Pāpārangi says she would prefer to stick to the single vaccination at six weeks.

“I wouldn’t take it while being pregnant just because I’m unsure of what the effects could be. They say that its safe but I probably need to do a bit more research.”

She also feels confident that throughout the early stages of her baby’s life, he will be safe from whooping cough since they’ll be living in a warm and clean house.

“So I feel like bringing our baby up for the first six weeks in that sort of environment will really discourage whooping cough.”