Vaccination message after a life with whooping cough

For someone who was told she would never make it past 40 because of whopping cough, Rae MacAlpine is looking pretty good for 84.
For someone who was told she would never make it past 40 because of whopping cough, Rae MacAlpine is looking pretty good for 84.

A FORMER Coffs Harbour grandma, whose life has been marred by the scars of whooping cough, has a frank, but heartfelt message for parents feeling anxious about getting their children vaccinated.

Rae MacAlpine was four when the disease, which claimed countless babies in her generation, invaded her tiny lungs.

When laws banning unvaccinated children from child care centres passed through NSW Parliament this week, Mrs MacAlpine felt compelled to tell her story in the hope parents would be encouraged to protect their children from "a lifetime of misery".

For someone who was told she would never make it past 40, Mrs MacAlpine is looking pretty good for 84, but while the years brought her a happy marriage, two children and much-loved grandchildren, there have been times she has wished she was not a whooping cough "survivor".

A hacking, painful cough is a daily reminder of the sacrifices she has had to make ever since the childhood disease left her with the chronic lung infection bronchiectasis.

She still weeps when recounting how, as a young wife, she became so embarrassed about the cough and subsequent mucus, that she asked her husband to stop kissing her.

When her children were small, she could never hold them close to her face for fear she would have a coughing fit.

She has lost count of the days and weeks spent in hospital with pneumonia or undergoing torturous lung taps and operations to "wash and drain out" her chest.

After moving to Coffs Harbour in the 70s she and her husband Clive ran a successful health food store before retiring in the area but even a change in climate provided no relief.

Now widowed, and living in a retirement home in Port Macquarie, Mrs MacAlpine says she has no social life outside her family and avoids public and confined places like cinemas and planes out of fear a coughing fit is never far away.

Sleepless nights are the norm.

Doctors always told her that when her generation died out, bronchiectasis would be a thing of the past, but a resurgence of whooping cough and critically low immunisation rates have Mrs MacAlpine sick with the thought modern-day children will suffer like she did.

"This is not about feeling sorry for myself, it's about trying to help parents make up their minds," Mrs MacAlpine said

"If you child gets whooping cough and survives, it may not be a life but a life sentence."

What you need to know about the new vaccination laws

  • Parents or guardians will be required to provide evidence their child is fully vaccinated for age, or is on a recognised catch-up schedule, or has an exemption approved by a GP.
  • Those seeking exemptions will be required to fill in forms used by the Commonwealth, which must be completed by a GP (or other approved provider) after counselling.
  • Directors of childcare facilities will be required to obtain vaccination evidence or exemption prior to enrolment. Failure to comply will be an offence subject to a fine.

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