NHS Herefordshire is introducing a programme of vaccination for the county’s pregnant women in response to an ongoing national outbreak of whooping cough in England and Wales – the largest in the UK for over a decade.
Whooping cough (pertussis) spreads through coughing and sneezing and can be a very serious disease when it occurs in children under the age of one. But thanks to an effective immunisation programme, it's now quite rare.
Before the vaccination against whooping cough was introduced in the 1950s, there were more than 100,000 reported cases in England and Wales per year. Three out of four children caught the disease and some died every year. Numbers had reduced with less than 150 cases being reported in children aged four and under during 2007. However numbers have increased again, and so far this year whooping cough has killed nine babies in England and Wales.
As a result, local health services have been advised to deliver an immunisation programme targeting women in the later stages of pregnancy. The vaccine works by boosting antibodies in the pregnant women during late pregnancy (28-38 weeks), so that protection against pertussis is passed from the mother to her baby. This means the infant is protected before they can get a vaccination of their own, starting at eight weeks old.
Elizabeth Shassere, director of public health, Herefordshire, said: “Whooping cough is very unpleasant at any age, but for infants can lead to serious complications such as pneumonia, weight loss, brain damage or even death. In Herefordshire we have seen the number of cases grow this year so, like many other counties across the UK, we are stepping up our immunisation programme by vaccinating pregnant women. The vaccine will be available free of charge from their GPs at their routine antenatal appointment.
“We will be working with Wye Valley NHS Trust maternity staff to make women aware of this vaccine and encourage them to protect their newborns from this highly infectious disease.”