Pregnant women are being urged to get vaccinated against whooping cough in a bid to protect their unborn children against the potentially fatal disease.
New Zealand is in the grip of a whooping cough epidemic, with more than 5000 cases reported this year alone, including two babies who have died.
Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, can lead to blindness, brain damage, and in severe cases, death.
Medical experts today said pregnant women can play a role in protecting their children by taking up offers of vaccinations.
"By vaccinating the mums of unborn babies, we've given the mum the opportunity to build some antibodies and to pass these onto her unborn child," said Dannemora Medical Centre head nurse, Gillian Davies.
Figures show that 70% of babies who contract whooping cough in the first few weeks of life, catch it from their parents or other close family members.
To combat this statistic four of New Zealand's District Health Boards - Counties Manukau, Capital and Coast, Canterbury, and Waikato - have begun to administer the vaccine to pregnant women for free. Waikato has been one of the regions worst hit by the whooping cough epidemic.
Women in these areas will be offered the jab from around 20 weeks into their pregnancy to a fortnight after they've given birth.
The DHBs will also encourage partners, siblings and relatives to get booster shots, especially as the busy Christmas season approaches.
"Because families start mixing together, school's out, family visit from other parts of the country, other parts of the world, and people are often living in closer contact, unimmunised family members may be coming in," said Davies.
Mum-to-be Keri Carter backed the move.
"I can't protect my baby by giving her immunisations until she's six-weeks-old, so from my point of view getting myself and my partner vaccinated decreases her chance of catching whooping cough," she said.
However, the antibodies transferred to a baby from an immunised mother will only protect the infant for the first six-weeks of life. The baby must then receive its first whooping cough vaccine at six-weeks, followed by another at three-months and a following one at five-months.
Nearly 5000 New Zealanders have contracted whooping cough in the past 12 months, with 400 cases in the past few weeks alone.
One in 10 babies hospitalised with whooping cough end up in a neonatal intensive care unit. But even with constant 24-hour surveillance they have a one in six chance of dying or ending up with permanent brain or lung damage.