Whooping cough is a “very contagious” respiratory infection caused by the rather aggressive bacteria bordetella pertussis. It has long been affecting populations around the world but over the past six years there have been outbreaks reaching epidemic levels.

According to Doctor Mason Stevenson, from the Australian Medical Association of Queensland, it’s because the bacteria is “growing more resistant” to vaccines and antibiotics, including the vaccine that’s currently being administered through Australia’s public health system.

“Yes, unfortunately the vaccine is less effective,” Dr Stevenson said in the Sunshine Coast Daily.

“It appears the new refined vaccine is not as effective as the old-fashioned, triple-antigen vaccine. This has been admitted to and discussed in medical journals in recent times.”

What happened to the vaccine?

“The old … vaccine had over 100 different antigens but, unfortunately, it was responsible for an excess in high fevers and convulsions, sometimes leading to cerebral damage,” Dr Stevenson said.

“The new vaccine was created on only three antigens. This, combined with with abhorrent evolution of the bordetella pertussis bacteria make it more resistant to both vaccine and antibiotic treatments.”

But, the GP says, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t bother vaccinating our children against the illness. In fact, he stresses it’s still the best protection. Parents shouldn’t be surprised, or alarmed, if a child with up-to-date vaccinations still gets the infection.

The symptoms to look out for

There are current outbreaks at schools across Queensland, where vaccinated children have been diagnosed with whooping cough. Up to five times as many cases have been brought to doctors in the state this year in some regions, compared to the same time last year.

Queensland Health protocol requires schools to send notification letters to all parents when a student tests positive to the illness. The child is also kept at home, along with any potentially infected siblings, until the family is given the all clear.

Because this infection is so contagious, it’s important to act quickly and take your child to a doctor if you suspect they’ve got it. These are the typical signs of the illness, which can be very similar to a cold:

  • A severe cough which occurs in bouts
  • Characteristic “whooping” sound on inhalation
  • Vomiting after a coughing episode
  • Problems breathing.

Queensland Health advises symptoms can be “more severe if you haven’t been vaccinated”.

While whooping cough can be fatal, Doctor Stevenson says it’s a very unlikely outcome in school age children. According to Federal Government data “one in every 200 babies who contract whooping cough will die”.

Federally funded booster returns


“The Federal Government has backed and financed the reintroduction of 18-month-old babies whooping cough vaccine back into the schedule,” Dr Stevenson said.

It’s hoped this will bridge the gap and ensure when children reach school age, they’ll be less likely to contract and spread the infection.

Dr Stevenson says the 18 month booster is available now and is covered as part of the public immunisation program.

If you think your child has whooping cough and you can’t get to your regular GP, you can book a House Call Doctor online, via the app or by calling 13 55 66.