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Four in ten pregnant women have had the whooping cough jab

The first take-up figures for the new whooping cough vaccine have been released
WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Keith David Barnard
african american baby

11th December 2012 - New figures show that 44% of mums-to-be in England have taken up an offer to be vaccinated against whooping cough to prevent their newborns contracting the disease.

A big rise in cases this year prompted the government to roll out a vaccination programme for pregnant women from October.

Thirteen babies under three months old have died in the UK so far this year and hundreds of others have been infected.

Department of Health figures show that in October around 18,000 pregnant women in England had the vaccine.

Boosts newborn immunity

Pregnant women are offered the jab between 28 and 38 weeks, to protect their babies against the potentially deadly bacteria.

Babies aren’t usually given the whooping cough vaccine until they are between two and four months old, so the vaccination programme aims to boost the short-term immunity passed on by pregnant women to their newborns.

The vaccine, Repevax, is similar to one used for pregnant women in the US since 2011.

The programme has been put in place across the UK, but take up figures for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have not yet been released yet.

Take up rate needs to be better

Professor David Salisbury, the Government’s director of immunisation says he is pleased that nearly half of pregnant women have taken up the offer of the whooping cough vaccine, but he urged all pregnant women between 28 and 38 weeks of pregnancy to get the vaccine to protect their babies.

“Whooping cough is highly infectious and infants are particularly vulnerable. Thirteen infants have died as a result of whooping cough this year and there have been nearly 400 cases of the disease in children under three months old.”

He adds: “It's vital that babies are protected from the day they are born. That's why we are encouraging all pregnant women to be vaccinated."

An estimated 650,000 women a year who are between 28 and 38 weeks of pregnancy will be entitled to receive the jab.

It will be offered to women during routine antenatal appointments with a nurse, midwife or GP.

What is whooping cough?

Whooping cough is a highly infectious bacterial disease which spreads when a person with the infection coughs and sheds the bacteria, which is then inhaled by another person. It causes long bouts of coughing and choking.

So far this year there have been more than 7,000 cases, compared to just over 1,000 during the whole of 2011.

The disease affects people of all ages but it’s much more serious and potentially fatal for young babies.

Dr Gayatri Amirthalingam, consultant epidemiologist for immunisation at the Health Protection Agency, strongly recommends all pregnant women take up the offer of vaccination.

“Parents should also ensure their children are vaccinated against whooping cough on time, even babies of women who’ve had the vaccine in pregnancy," he says. "This is to continue their baby’s protection through childhood."

Reviewed on December 11, 2012

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