A STATE government decision to dump free whooping cough vaccinations for parents and carers of newborns has had a mixed reaction from Bendigo residents.
Dr Gary Berryman from Bendigo Family Practice hoped the decision had been made based on sound medical logic and Bendigo Community Health Services CEO Kim Sykes said provisions needed to be made for people who were struggling financially.
Bendigo mother Kim Giles took time off work last year to nurse her daughters when they were diagnosed with whooping cough and yesterday described the illness as “just horrible”. “Not having free vaccinations means now even less people will have the vaccination done,” she said.
“There are people out there who are already not doing it now when it’s free.
“I feel a bit dismayed people rely on the herd mentality to protect themselves and their families.”
Health Minister David Davis confirmed in a Parliamentary Accounts and Estimates Committee hearing yesterday that the vaccine for parents wouldn’t be available after June 30 due to funding cuts.
The vaccine had been on offer since 2009 to help protect newborns from the disease.
Up to May this year, there have been 1655 notifications made to the Department of Health of whooping cough cases. There were more than 280 cases of whooping cough in Bendigo last year, almost double the number reported in 2010.
In February last year, the death of a 14-day-old Bendigo baby from whooping cough made national headlines.
Later that month a mother-of-three from Eaglehawk told of her shock at being diagnosed with whooping cough at the age of 41, saying she was unaware her childhood immunisation would wear off.
Dr Berryman from Bendigo Family Practice said whooping cough was highly contagious and was most serious in babies.
“My view on the whooping cough vaccine is that it’s considered important, which is why it’s part of the vaccination schedule,” he said.
“As general practitioners, over the past few years we’ve seen a spike in the number of cases and we’ve also seen an increase in the number of infants with it. I’m not sure whether it’s fallen off or not, I don’t have the numbers, but vaccinating parents, carers and even grandparents of newborns was designed to protect the newborns.”
Dr Berryman said some people might choose not to have the vaccine if they had to pay for it.
“The other thing is they may also think if it’s not being supplied then it may not be an issue,” he said.
“I hope (the cutting of the free vaccine) has been a decision based around sound medical grounds.”
Ms Sykes said people already struggling to put food on the table might not see paying for a vaccination as a priority.
“We do know it’s a really tight economic environment and I understand that and support the need to reassess certain things,” she said. “But I would hope to see that proper provisions are made for the vulnerable in our community... one would want to see that the children protected, no matter what their parents’ income level.”
Opposition health spokesman Gavin Jennings said the decision to dump the vaccine program was ill-considered and unfair.
“Victoria’s health system is going backwards under Ted Baillieu and it’s now the health of newborns that will be impacted by this government’s latest cut,” Mr Jennings said.