Credit: Freepik

Czech Republic Has Enough Medicines For Whooping Cough and Other Rising Infections

None of the diseases that are currently increasing in prevalence in the Czech Republic, including whooping cough, diphtheria and tuberculosis, are close to the epidemic threshold, and there are enough supplies of the necessary medicines and vaccines, Deputy Health Minister Josef Pavlovic (Pirates) told journalists yesterday.

More drugs for children are being imported from the UK, Pavlovic said.

This year, doctors have already registered 2,750 cases of whooping cough, including 477 from Monday to Wednesday morning. The prevalence of whooping cough is the highest since the 1960s, and of diphtheria since the 1970s. Tuberculosis was steadily declining until 2021.

“What we are registering after the COVID pandemic is also influenced by the fact that there were restrictive measures in terms of protecting the individual, whether wearing masks or recommendations not to meet,” said Barbora Mackova, director of the State Health Institute (SZU). For all three diseases, she said, there are known ways to treat them and tools to prevent them, namely vaccination.

She said whooping cough had not ceased to occur in the population, but there had been few cases. “The incidence of whooping cough has been increasing regularly, with increases seen every three to five years,” Mackova said. Other European countries, as well as Australia, are registering similar increases, she said. Diphtheria returned to Czechia in 2022 after 27 years, with seven cases last year and six this year up to 6 March.

2,750 cases of whooping cough (or pertussis) have been recorded by SZU this year, including 608 in the last week and 477 in the first three days of this week. This is more than the annual total for every year since 2014, when 2,500 cases were recorded for the entire year, and before that since vaccination began in the early 1960s. Most patients are now between the ages of 15 and 19; experts say this may be related to the fact that while 96% of young children are vaccinated, uptake of vaccinations at five and 10 years is lower.

According to Pavel Dlouhy, head of the infectious diseases department at Masaryk Hospital in Usti nad Labem, patients with whooping cough are not admitted to hospital, with the exception of very young children. He said improved diagnostics, with PCR testing better detecting infected people, were a key reason for the increase in cases after COVID-19.

“In order to respond to the current situation with pertussis, we need to increase vaccination coverage in children at the age of five and ten, pay attention to pregnant women, and ensure every adult is vaccinated at least once in adulthood,” said Roman Chlibek, president of the Czech Vaccinological Society of the Czech Medical Society of Jan Evangelista Purkyne.

He said adults have access to a vaccine combining whooping cough vaccination with diphtheria, tetanus and polio. Tens of thousands of doses are available, he said.

A separate pertussis-only vaccine is not available. The manufacturer of the vaccine for children has reported a shortage, with 10,000 doses to be imported from the UK next week, according to the director of the public health department at the Health Ministry, Matyas Fosum.

The whooping cough vaccination, which is compulsory for children in the Czech Republic in the first year of life and again at age 10 or 11, does not protect for life, and is not free for adults. However, retrospective partial reimbursements for the vaccine are available from health insurance companies.

The interest of adults in vaccination against whooping cough has increased slightly in the Czech Republic, according to general practitioners interviewed by CTK. Some of them face a shortage of vaccines, but doctors and hospitals have them available in most cases, the CTK poll showed.

GPs warned in early March that they could not order adult vaccines from the distributor. Fosum, however, told reporters yesterday that after the shortage, the triple-combination vaccines had been redirected for children and a vaccine containing a substance against polio was intended for adults. There are sufficient supplies of this vaccine, he added.

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