Early childhood education leader pushes for more staff to be vaccinated as whooping cough hits South Island

An early childhood education leader is pushing for more staff to get vaccinated against whooping cough to protect tamariki.

This comes as Te Whatu Ora recorded the South Island's first case of the illness in the Nelson Marlborough region.

Whooping cough is a highly infectious disease three babies have already died from this year.

"Whooping cough is most dangerous for young children, it is life-threatening," said chief advisor Office of Early Childhood Education, Dr Sarah Alexander.

And now Te Whatu Ora has confirmed the first case of whooping cough in the South Island - and says community spread is likely.

"To hear that there is an outbreak, a potential outbreak of whooping cough, it is very concerning," Dr Alexander said.

Concerning because of low vaccination rates and a high chance of infection.

"There's probably undetected cases out there. The concerning thing is that vaccination rates are not as high as they would be ideally. So that does put those that are vulnerable of whooping cough, which are particularly very young children, at risk," New Zealand College of Midwives CEO Alison Eddy told Radio New Zealand.

Babies can't be vaccinated until they are six weeks old, so Te Whatu Ora is urging those who are eligible to get a free vaccination.

This includes pregnant women, tamariki under 18 years old, and adults at 45 and 65 years old as immunity reduces.

"If it has been over 10 years since you were last vaccinated or received your booster for whooping cough, go and get it now," Dr Alexander said.

The message for early childhood staff is the same, after a paper published in the New Zealand Medical Journal found out of 4000 ECE teachers surveyed, just 48 percent were immunised against the disease.

That's prompting industry leaders to issue a call to action.

"It's in the hands of adults to keep these little ones safe, it's up to us to get our boosters," said Dr Alexander.

Playing our part to protect our pēpē.