Baby’s first vaccine: Te Papa Hauora Health Precinct

Local researchers, together with clinicians, are relentlessly pursuing improvements in treatments to deliver better outcomes across our communities.


Regretfully, sometimes delivering the benefits of proven research is frustrated by poor subsequent application.

Recently I had the privilege of attending Professor Tony Walls’ inaugural professorial lecture at the University of Otago here in Christchurch. As part of his presentation, Tony presented a compelling case for delivering ‘baby’s first vaccine’ for whooping cough, by vaccinating mothers during pregnancy.
Babies are most vulnerable to whooping cough immediately after birth. If the illness presents, it can be difficult to treat, devastating for the baby, and at
worst fatal. Whooping cough rates in New Zealand are increasing.

Research by Tony and his colleagues, backed up by international evidence, has shown that immunising mothers before baby is born is safe, and can protect about 90% of babies in their first few weeks of life. It gives them protection before they can be immunised after birth. Currently only about 45% of pregnant women across New Zealand are immunised for whooping cough.

For Māori the rate is much lower at around 25%.

A targeted, cost effective, education programme, encouraging this practice could save babies’ lives. This is one excellent example of how we can increase equitable health outcomes through applying quality research.

It would reduce downstream costs to the health system, as well as make a life-changing difference to many babies, mums and whānau.

We need to ask why this is not happening.

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