By Lucy Emlyn-Jones
Queensland Minister for Health Lawrence Springborg has confirmed the future of the adult vaccination scheme, introduced by the Labor government two years ago, is in limbo until the budget is finalised.
Currently parents, grandparents and anyone living in a household with a baby under six months of age can receive the seasononal influenza and whooping cough vaccine for free.
However, there has been a significant increase in cases of whooping cough in Queensland in the past five years.
President of the Australian Vaccination Network Meryl Dorey says she is not surprised by the government’s decision to consider axing the free whooping cough vaccine.
Ms Dorey says ultimately it comes down to funding.
“If we’re going to have a health policy that costs hundreds of millions of dollars a year, which vaccination does, we have to make sure we’re spending our money wisely,” she says.
Ms Dorey says the government has looked at the effectiveness of the science surrounding the policy.
“Not only is it not effective at preventing whooping cough from appearing in children, but it has not been effective at reducing the incidence of whooping cough in the community,” she says.
“Right now Australia is in its fifth year of a whooping cough epidemic.”
Senior director of Queensland Health’s communicable diseases branch Christine Selvey says adults have a responsibility to get the vaccine, even if it comes at a cost.
However, Dr Selvey admits there is not enough medical evidence to determine exactly how beneficial adult vaccination is in preventing whooping cough in infants.
“Vaccinating adults around that baby should provide protection,” she says.
“The problem is we don’t know how good that protection is.
“Even vaccinated people can still get pertussis bacteria in the back of their nose and throat and then, in theory, with very close contact [they] could transmit it to the baby.”
Dr Selvey says the increase in cases of whooping cough seen in recent years could be the result of more vigorous testing.
“There are a lot more people getting tested,” she says.
“So part of it is that we’re just testing more people and these milder infections are being picked up, and that explains quite a bit of the increase in notification.”