Whooping cough rates have leapt on the NSW north coast, where anti-vax sentiment is high

8th May 2017

THIRTY-SEVEN new cases of whooping cough were reported last week in the idyllic northern NSW nerve centre of militant anti-vaxxers and jab-suspicious hippies.

In April there were 83 cases in children and a total of 152 so far this year in the Northern NSW Health District, sparking calls from health authorities for parents to immunise their children against the potentially deadly disease.

But the area has dangerously low rates of vaccination in children, lowering the vital “herd immunity” — large numbers of vaccinated people — to guard against a significant whooping cough outbreak.

The rate of whooping cough in the northern district is nine times that of the neighbouring Mid-North Coast Health District which has only registered 17 cases this year.

A Sunday Telegraph analysis of the Local Health Districts reveals Northern NSW also had a much higher incidence of whooping cough than any other area in the state in 2016 as well.

A total of 10,832 NSW children contracted whooping cough statewide in 2016, according to NSW Health Data.

Children living in the north coast region, which has the lowest vaccination rate in the country, suffered four times more whooping cough than comparable areas in 2016.

Herd immunity is the linchpin of the national immunisation program.

Immunisation rates of 95 per cent offer herd immunity to minimise vaccine preventable diseases such as whooping cough spreading, however if rates fall below 90 per cent disease is more prevalent.

The Northern NSW Health district registered 518 cases of whooping cough in children last year, almost four times the rate of the Mid North Coast Health District which registered only 158 cases.

The two health districts have similar population numbers, but the Mid North Coast has a higher vaccination rate and therefore better herd immunity.

The Central Coast Local Health District, which boasts some of the highest immunisation rates in NSW only registered 372 cases despite a greater population than Northern NSW.

The Byron shire is the third most visited place in Australia behind Sydney and Melbourne.

Only 50 per cent of five-year-olds are fully vaccinated in Mullumbimby and 60 per cent in nearby Byron Bay.

Australian Medical Association president Dr Michael Gonnon said whooping cough rates in Northern NSW were probably much higher than recorded figures because many in the community eschew the GP in favour of alternative practitioners.

“A lot would not get diagnosed. People should hold their breath when driving through northern NSW but it’s a bit hard to hold your breath for 100 kilometres,” Dr Gannon said.

The director of the North Coast Public Health Unit told the Sunday Telegraph that ‘’the community is at a much greater risk of outbreaks that can run out of control”.

“Communities with low vaccination levels will have more disease,” he said.

Two babies died in the region during the 2009-12 outbreak of whooping cough.

At one month old, both Dana McCaffery and Kailis Smith were too young to be vaccinated and succumbed to the horror disease in 2009 and 2011 respectively.

Toni McCaffery has campaigned for a targeted campaign to address immunisation rates in the region since death of her daughter Dana.

“The perfect storm when Dana died is brewing again. It’s crucial pregnant women in the area get that booster shot to protect their newborns,” Mrs McCaffery said.

“When Dana died, whooping cough was four times the rate as well.

“We need to explain to parents why they should vaccinate their child and educate them about the diseases that they are preventing.

“In many cases, there is no cure and all that modern medicine can do is support a child through it,” Mrs McCaffery said.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

SPAM/MORON CHECK: * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.