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'No change' to whooping cough vaccine

AAP logoAAP 5/11/2016 Belinda Merhab

Australia's chief medical officer has moved to quell fears the whooping cough vaccine for school children is being scrapped, insisting a review is normal practice.

The federal health department says advice is being sought on the effectiveness of the whooping cough booster currently given in the first year of high school, which has sparked concern the government plans to scrap it.

Professor Brendan Murphy insists no decision has been made.

He says it's appropriate advisory committees are looking at all whooping cough vaccines funded through the national immunisation program.

"We also know that the epidemiology of pertussis disease (whooping cough) changes over time and we want to make sure we are achieving the best possible outcomes for the community."

Fears the vaccine would be scrapped were sparked by a Friday afternoon statement from the federal health department, announcing the federal government's proposed register to track vaccines given to school children had been scrapped.

Despite being hailed in the 2015/16 budget as a move to boost immunisation, the department suggested there wouldn't be much point in establishing the Australian School Vaccination Register, given the school whooping cough vaccine may be removed from the national immunisation program.

It said the independent body responsible for recommending new medicines listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme had sought advice on the effectiveness of the vaccine for school kids, after having recommended that the whooping cough vaccine for pregnant women be funded on the national immunisation program.

Labor accused the government of trying to bury the news it was considering axing the vaccine for teenagers by slipping it into a media release late on Friday - known as "taking out the trash day".

"If the government is considering getting rid of the whooping cough vaccination for teenagers, then they need to release the advice on which that decision is being made," opposition health spokeswoman Catherine King said.

"They need to explain to parents - given that we have had 16,000 cases of whooping cough already this year - how that protection for children is going to be continued."

Professor Murphy says whooping cough rates fluctuate and are significantly lower in 2016 than they were in 2015.

"Whooping cough notifications are down from 22,500 in 2015 to around 16,000 so far in 2016."

Health Minister Sussan Ley hit back at Labor "scaremongering", insisting the review had been ordered by an independent body, separate from government.

"The government acts on advice from independent medical experts in making decisions about the national immunisation program.

"What is currently underway by these independent medical experts is a review of the effectiveness of the whooping cough vaccination schedule, to make sure the best possible outcomes are delivered."

The Australian School Vaccination Register, announced in the 2015/16 budget as part of a $26 million push to boost immunisation, would have expanded the existing HPV register which records HPV vaccines given to 12 and 13 year olds through schools.

But given the chickenpox vaccine school program is coming to an end and uncertainty around the whooping cough vaccine, the department is seeking to continue the HPV register.

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