Te Whatu Ora is calling on people to be alert to whooping cough symptoms, and to make sure tamariki, their caregivers and anyone pregnant are immunised against the illness.


This comes following the recent tragic deaths of two people from whooping cough.


William Rainger, Te Whatu Ora, Clinical Lead - Health Protection, National Public Health Service said, “Our condolences are with the two families at this time. Out of respect to them we will not be releasing any further information on these deaths.”


Whooping cough (also called pertussis or the hundred-day-cough) is highly infectious and is spread by coughing and sneezing. People can pass on the illness from the week before their cough starts. Early diagnosis and treatment with antibiotics can reduce the time a person is infectious to just two to five days but left untreated they can pass on the illness for up to three weeks.


Whooping cough is particularly dangerous for young babies. People should not visit pregnant women or young babies if they are unwell with any sort of respiratory (breathing) illness symptoms.  


It is also important for anyone who is pregnant to be immunised from 16 weeks pregnant every time they are pregnant to pass on immunity to their newborn, and that pēpē get their immunisations as early as possible, on time at 6 weeks of age. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic disruption has resulted in seriously low rates of routine childhood immunisations meaning children are not well protected from whooping cough and it is more likely to spread in the community.


“The opportunity is here right now to get ahead of whooping cough by catching up on routine immunisations which protect pēpē, tamariki and whānau.”


Whooping cough starts like a cold with a runny nose, cough and fever. After seven to ten days the cough becomes more severe and causes coughing fits that may end with a ‘whoop’, dry retching or vomiting. This illness is unpleasant for anyone, but it is life-threatening for babies.


“Parents should seek medical advice for their infant if they have a cough that ends with a ‘whoop’ sound or vomiting, and not wait for 10 days,” he says.


Anyone with a cough for two weeks or more, or a cough that ends with a ‘whoop’ sound or vomiting should seek medical advice. Contact your doctor or call Healthline for free on 0800 611 116. If anyone has difficulty breathing, call 111 and get help immediately.


“During the outbreak period in 2017 – 2019 there were 4697 cases of whooping cough in New Zealand. Public health measures during COVID-19 of closed international borders, wearing masks, hand washing and staying home when sick meant there were fewer cases through 2020 – 2022* (170 cases in 2020, 41 cases in 2021 and 18 cases in 2022). In recent months there has been a small number of cases detected again in regions across the country.


“While pertussis notifications to public health remain very low, these fatalities indicate there is most likely undetected spread occurring within the community, and we are at risk of another outbreak.


“The best protection against whooping cough is to be immunised. Babies and young children should get their vaccine doses on-time at six weeks, three months and five months. Booster doses are then given at four and 11 years old,” Dr Rainger says.

  • All children and young people aged under 18 years
  • Pregnant people
  • Adults at 45 and 65 years of age (same vaccine as the tetanus booster)
  • Some groups at higher risk of becoming very unwell if they catch whooping cough
  • Around 84% of babies are protected once they’ve completed 3 doses of vaccine (at six weeks, and three and five months of age).
  • Immunising against whooping cough during pregnancy protects about 90% of babies in their first few weeks of life.

It’s also recommended caregivers and those who have regular contact with babies and young children, like grandparents to also consider getting immunised, to reduce the risk of passing on the illness.