PHARMAC will extend funding to a type of antibiotic that can be used to treat and prevent pertussis (whooping cough) in children under one.
The decision to fund azithromycin follows growing concern over rates of whooping cough and advice from both PHARMAC’s clinical advisory committee PTAC and the Ministry of Health that there was an urgent public health requirement for such a treatment.
PHARMAC’s medical director Dr Peter Moodie says the agency has moved quickly to make azithromycin available for children.
“Whooping cough can be very serious and even fatal in young children, so making this treatment available is an important step,” says Dr Moodie. “The best defence against whooping cough continues to be immunisation, but it is also important to have treatments for when infections do occur.
“Our funding decision means that children under one year will be able to be treated with azithromycin if they have whooping cough, or if they come into contact with someone with whooping cough. This will help give them additional protection from infection.”
Dr Moodie says that despite high rates of immunisation, whooping cough continues to be present in the community.
Starship Hospital paediatrician Emma Best has welcomed the funding decision.
"The current treatment, erythromycin, had troublesome side effects in young babies - these are the very group of children most at risk from whooping cough,” says Dr Best.
“Azithromycin is as effective and is able to be given once a day, as well as in a shorter course for both treatment and prevention if a little baby is exposed to whooping cough."
PHARMAC will begin funding azithromycin for whooping cough from 1 June.