The family of a one-month-old girl who died from whooping cough in Lethbridge in June is urging parents to immunize themselves and their children against the disease.

Harper Whitehead’s family says she didn’t have to die.

She was a healthy newborn, but at two weeks old she was taken to the Alberta Children's Hospital with a severe cough.

Whitehead died on June 23.

While she was too young to receive the immunization herself, her mother and aunt want Albertans to know about the dangers.

The death came after the Alberta Health Services opened a series of immunization clinics on June 21 in an attempt to battle a pertussis outbreak that surfaced in March.

Whooping cough is a bacterial infection that causes severe coughing that may last for months. A person can have whooping cough for up to three weeks before showing symptoms.

On average, there are about one to three cases of whooping cough in southern Alberta each year.

This year, there have already been 42 cases.

Officials say that babies under the age of six months have little, if any immunity to the disease for the first six months of their life.

Infants less than three months of age make up nearly 90 percent of all deaths.

“This is a serious public health issue, and we cannot stress enough the importance of immunization,” says Dr. Vivien Suttorp, Medical Officer of Health – South Zone in a release. “Because infants are especially vulnerable to this outbreak, we are targeting these clinics for the parents and caregivers of infants less than one year of age.”

Children less than two months of age will be immunized against the disease as early as six weeks of age to ensure the most vulnerable babies are protected.

Boosters are provided between 10 and 14 weeks of age.

“Immunization is the key to preventing infection; it can also reduce the severity of illness should further outbreaks occur,” says Dr. Suttorp.

Additional clinics have now been scheduled in southern Alberta to help protect children from the disease.

They are available at the following health centres:

  • Raymond Community Health, July 23, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Taber Community Health, July 24, 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Vauxhall Community Health, July 24, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Coaldale Community Health, July 24, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Bow Island Community Health, July 25, 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Fort Macleod Community Health, July 25, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Picture Butte Community Health, July 27, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

The AHS advises that parents and caregivers, those who provide direct care, of babies who are less than a year old should be immunized.

Children will not be immunized at the clinics.

Typically, pertussis immunization is part of the regular immunization program at two, four, six, and 18 months; at four to six years; and then again in Grade 9.