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Pregnant women urged to have whooping cough vaccine to protect themselves and their babies

Article By: Sue Learner, Editor

Pregnant women are being urged to have the whooping cough vaccine to protect themselves and their babies against the disease, after the latest figures showed levels of whooping cough cases are still high in England.

There were 1,744 laboratory confirmed whooping cough cases reported in 2015 to the end of June, whereas there were 1,412 cases in the same period last year.

These figures are higher than before the whooping cough outbreak began. Pregnant women in the UK have been offered whooping cough vaccine since October 2012 in response to the national outbreak.

Dr Mary Ramsay, head of Immunisation at Public Health England said: “The latest figures show that whooping cough is still prevalent in England and it’s important that pregnant women visit their GP surgery or midwife to get vaccinated, ideally between weeks 28 and 32 of their pregnancy.

“Being vaccinated against whooping cough while you’re pregnant is a highly-effective way to protect your baby in the first few weeks of their life.

“The immunity you get from the vaccine passes to your baby and provides them with protection until they are old enough to be routinely vaccinated against whooping cough at two months old.”

She added: “We encourage pregnant women to discuss the vaccination with their doctor or midwife at their next appointment.”

Whooping cough (pertussis) is an acute respiratory infection, which usually begins with mild, cold-like symptoms that develop over one to two weeks into coughing fits that can be severe. The cough can often last for two to three months. However, whooping cough can also be fatal, particularly in young babies before they are protected by their first dose of vaccine at 2 months.

New data shows that for the year to March 2015, whooping cough vaccine coverage in pregnant women averaged 56.4 per cent in England.

PHE research discovered that babies born to women who were vaccinated at least a week before birth had a 91 per cent reduced risk of becoming ill with whooping cough in their first weeks of life, compared to babies whose mothers had not been vaccinated.

Professor John Watson, deputy chief medical Officer added: “Babies too young to start their vaccinations are at greatest risk from whooping cough. It’s an extremely distressing illness that can lead to young babies being admitted to hospital and can potentially be fatal.

“Deaths in infants with whooping cough have reduced significantly since the introduction of the vaccine for pregnant women in 2012 so I encourage all pregnant women to take up the pertussis vaccine when offered.”

The call for pregnant women to have the whooping cough vaccine has been backed by the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) with Louise Silverton, director for midwifery for the RCM, saying: “This has our support and we echo this appeal for pregnant women to have this vaccine during pregnancy.

"Whooping cough can have fatal consequences for a child and they are particularly vulnerable in the fist two months of life, when they are effectively unprotected against this disease until they have their first vaccination at two months."

In addition to the whooping cough vaccine, PHE encourages pregnant women to take up the flu vaccine from October. Dr Ramsay added: “If you’re pregnant, you should also have a free flu vaccine to reduce the risk of complications and potential harmful consequences for both you and your baby if you catch flu.

“Pregnancy weakens the body’s immune system and as a result you may be less able to fight off infections, increasing the risk of becoming seriously ill and even premature birth as a result of flu. You can have the flu vaccine safely at any stage of pregnancy, so don’t delay asking your midwife or GP about this vaccine if you’re pregnant in the autumn and winter months.”


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