NSW election: Labor pledges free whooping cough vaccines for pregnant women

All pregnant women will be given free whooping cough vaccines under a Labor Party election promise to be released on Wednesday.

The policy is likely to be welcomed by health experts, who have watched with concern the continuing flare-ups of the potentially deadly condition.

Labor health spokesman Walt Secord said the policy could save the lives of children too young to be immunised.

“I have seen babies struggling to breathe with whooping cough and it is heartbreaking,” he said.

“This is about giving newborns and mothers the best start in life. It is also about saving lives.”

Mr Secord said only last year a baby had died from the condition, and the spike in whooping cough cases across the state meant it was more important than ever to ensure mothers were protected.

“We should be taking every step available to us to increase the number of immunisations and counter preventable illnesses in our community,” he said.

NSW stopped providing new mothers with free vaccines in 2013 after huge spikes in the number of whooping cough cases appeared to be declining.

However, since July last year, cases have been on the increase and are the highest they have been in three years.

Since the beginning of the year, more than 1000 people have been infected with the disease, which causes deep, uncontrollable coughing that can choke a small child to death or cause vomiting, feeding problems and gagging.

It is thought that allowing a mother to be vaccinated while she is pregnant is the most effective way of preventing her baby from becoming sick as it prevents her catching the condition and passing it on, and may also lead to her passing on some immunity to her baby. Otherwise, the baby cannot be vaccinated until he or she is six weeks old.  

Mr Secord said the free immunisations would be offered to women in their third trimester of pregnancy through GP clinics, and had been costed at $7.4 million, including accompanying education campaigns.

However, he said it would also produce savings by preventing the condition from spreading, and built on an existing Labor policy to allow pharmacists to deliver adult flu vaccines to improve vaccination coverage. 

Meanwhile, the Baird government announced a $400 million upgrade to the Blacktown Mount Druitt Hospital. The amount is additional to a $600 million upgrade due to be completed next year.  

“This will provide new operating theatres, emergency departments and all of the other aspects that are missing now, frankly, from a modern hospital,” Health Minister Jillian Skinner said.

A NSW Health source told Fairfax this year that patients waiting up to 48 hours to be admitted to a ward in the hospital had become a daily occurrence.

The announcement takes to 26 the number of hospital infrastructure upgrades that the Baird government has promised to begin in its next term. A further two, including a new hospital in Rouse Hill, will be completed if the privatisation of electricity assets goes ahead.

Premier Mike Baird had earlier appeared before a crowd of about 10,000 at the Entertainment Centre for the premier’s annual seniors week gala concert, which this year had a Las Vegas theme.

The Premier said the government was seeking to secure new bulk-discount deals for the 1.3 million holders of seniors’ cards.

Mr Baird said the government was talking to utilities, internet and groceries companies about discounts but declined to provide further details, saying negotiations were commercially sensitive.

The government has budgeted $2 million for the new program.