pertussis vaccine
A nurse displays a tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis whooping cough vaccine at a free medical and dental health clinic in Los Angeles, California, U.S., April 27, 2016. Reuters/Lucy Nicholson

Health Minister Jack Snelling has revealed that a whooping cough outbreak would become epidemic in the next few years. The possible outcome was due to the increasing number of whooping cough cases recorded this year with a total of 260 recorded cases. In 2016 at the same time, there were only 182 cases. Since January 2016, there were 24 babies younger than six months that were diagnosed in SA. Four of the 24 babies have fallen ill.

The health department has revealed that more than half the mothers of babies who have been diagnosed with the disease have not received a vaccination. “It’s heartbreaking that this disease continues to put the health and lives of young babies at risk and that’s why the State Government has funded a free vaccine for pregnant women in South Australia,” Snelling said in a statement. He emphasised that whooping cough was really a serious illness that would lead to tragic consequences on babies.

In March 2015, a baby named Riley died of the disease. It started with a cough that developed into a whoop sound. The 4-week-old baby's lungs and heart were destroyed that led to his death. Since his death, his parents Greg and Catherine Hughes campaigned the importance of getting vaccinated.

"Mums please think about having the recommended pregnancy vaccines ... they are literally life-saving. The whooping cough vaccine during pregnancy reduces the chance of our new babies contracting whooping cough by an incredible 90%, and have been well-studied for safety," Riley's mother posted on her Facebook page Light for Riley. She added that pregnancy vaccination provided the gift of immunity that babies received an important layer of protection.

Pregnant mother Jenna Sadauskas was one of the mothers who received the free vaccines offered by the government. “You only have to see a few short seconds of a little baby who’s suffering from whooping cough to know that that’s an experience you don’t ever want to have to go through,” Sadauskas told 7News.

Professor Helen Marshall from the Adelaide Women’s and Children’s Hospital said that whooping cough was a nasty infection at any stage of life. However, she said that it was more serious in infants under six months of age. “Because infants under six months of age are not able to complete the required series of vaccinations, they are especially vulnerable to whooping cough,” she said.

According to Marshall, a mother who received a vaccination in the final trimester of pregnancy could provide more than 90 percent protection for the child. The vaccine should be provided also to infants at six weeks, four months and six months of age. When the child reaches four years old and high school, booster shots should be provided.