Dear Prime Minister,

Thank you for joining the Facebook group for our daughter, Dana Elizabeth McCaffery, who died of Whooping Cough (Pertussis) at four weeks of age. Over 20,000 people have joined this group to work together to protect our most vulnerable from preventable illnesses.

Dana’s death is a direct result of low vaccination rates and the failure of all levels of government and health departments to warn the community of the danger of the Pertussis epidemic. As Prime Minister, we are pleading with you to step up and take the lead to avoid further tragedy.

We are devastated that Dana had to die to highlight the following failures:

- Lack of information on low childhood vaccination rates in key areas, which reduces herd immunity and increases the risks of contracting preventable illnesses.
- No coordinated Federal or State Government campaigns to educate parents about the risk of preventable illnesses or proactively warn parents of outbreaks.
- No Federal or State Government programs to inform all adults to have regular boosters. We are confounded that almost 90% of adults are not immune to Pertussis because they don’t know they require a booster, which is the most effective way to combat the epidemic. General practitioners should be recommending boosters to all patients, just like they recommend the influenza vaccine.
- Ineffective communication between health departments and frontline health workers:
1. Not one health professional provided us with printed or verbal warnings about the epidemic or the need for boosters – not the general practitioner, obstetrician, the maternity wing of Lismore Base Hospital or the Community Health Service
2. General practitioners, schools and childcare services were not fully informed of the rate of notifications, number of admissions to hospitals or precautions to take
3. General practitioners are giving patients inconsistent advice and delaying the diagnosis of Pertussis, which means carriers continue to infect many more people.

Sadly, Dana’s death is the catalyst for any action. The days after she died, most state governments issued a media release on the Pertussis epidemic and NSW Health funded free boosters and started writing to new parents, grandparents and carers. The Australian Capital Territory has recently followed suit.

While these steps are in the right direction, it does not go far enough.

Please visit our website and Dana’s Facebook page and read the hundreds of messages. These posts demonstrate how Pertussis has affected many people, the continued lack of warnings, low awareness of the need for adult boosters and delays in diagnosis.

Over 16 children under 12 months of age have died from Pertussis in Australia since 1993. In 2008, 14,522 people caught Pertussis. When our daughter died in March, a further 8,041 children and adults caught this insidious disease in the first three months of this year – that’s a 517% increase on the 1,554 people infected at the same time last year.

We call on you to coordinate a national response to stop this alarming increase. As a minimum, this requires:

Increased childhood immunization
Governments must review how to encourage more parents to immunize their children. We believe national above and below-the-line education campaigns should fully inform parents about the risks of preventable illnesses and how vaccination will protect their child and the community. This campaign should also address their fears with proven evidence.

Free boosters for all adults across Australia
No-one else in our family has Pertussis. The scary fact is that we don’t know who infected Dana – it may have happened in hospital, at our son’s school, or someone we passed in the street. It is essential that governments fund free boosters for all adults to increase herd immunity and reduce risks, particularly within this current economic downturn.

Vigilant screening to diagnose Pertussis early
While vaccination significantly reduces risks, people must be informed that they can still contract a milder case of Pertussis and could therefore still infect a newborn. What measures can you introduce to ensure the medical profession proactively identifies symptoms and vigilantly tests people to diagnose Pertussis as early as possible to stop the spread of the epidemic?

As more than 50% of infants contract Pertussis from their parents, we recommend that general practitioners, midwives and obstetricians test all pregnant women and their partners at 36 weeks. Further, general practitioners should test any patient presenting with cold symptoms or anyone that wishes to take precautions.

Effective processes to warn the community of outbreaks of any virus or disease and implement infection control to avoid them becoming epidemics
Parents can only protect their children if they are informed.

All levels of government and health departments must review their alert systems to warn the community of outbreaks and precautions to take. This should include advertising, community service announcements, direct mail, brochures and most importantly, consistent warnings from frontline health workers at every opportunity.

We also seek from you a commitment for health departments to improve infection control measures, such as insisting that maternity hospital staff wear masks near newborns.

If governments can overcome Equine Influenza in the horse industry, then they must work together to protect the most vulnerable in our community from any virus or disease.

Our family is devastated. All it would have taken is a sticker on Dana’s Blue Book to protect her. She has paid the highest price for our failures, and we owe it to her to do everything possible to stop this happening to any other family.

Yours sincerely,

Toni and David McCaffery

Help us to urge governments to act.