Pregnant woman urged to be given whooping cough vaccine

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The increase in the death rate of babies has prompted the urging of pregnant women to go for a whooping cough vaccine to protect their unborn babies.

This vaccine was introduced for pregnant females during 2012, when the largest outbreak was experienced.

During 2012, there were 14 deaths among babies who were too young to receive the vaccine personally.

The programme was successful at first, with the death toll in babies aged under three months falling to three during 2013.

However, the latest figures have shown that during the first half of this year, there have already been five baby deaths, of which four occurred between April and June.

The number of women opting for the vaccine peaked during November 2013, at 61.5%, but has steadily declined quarterly thereafter, and reached 58.9% during March.

A consultant epidemiologist for immunisation at Public Health England (PHE), Dr Sema Mandal, said the infant deaths act as a reminder of the importance of the benefits linked to the vaccine, and every woman should be informed and vaccinated at the right time to offer maximum protection for their babies.

Dr Mandal said pregnant women should be vaccinated between 28 and 32 weeks of their pregnancy, although the vaccine could be given up to 38 weeks.

PHE is working with midwives, GPs and other health professionals to ensure they have all the latest facts at hand.

It is important for parents to be alert to the symptoms and signs of whooping cough. This includes sever coughing fits which may be accompanied by breathing difficulties, or breaks in breathing in young infants, vomiting after coughing and the characteristic ‘whooping’ sound it produces in young children. In adults or older children, the cough may become a prolonged one.

Parents should ensure that their children receive the whooping cough vaccination on time, even babies who have had the vaccine during pregnancy. This will provide continued protection during their childhood.

In excess of 600000 pregnant females have received the vaccination since it was introduced during late 2012. The numbers have seen a steady increase to about 60% of those who are eligible.

The five-in-one jab babies are given at one, two and three months of age include the whooping cough vaccine, but they are not fully protected unless they have received all three doses.

Pregnant females are offered the vaccine between 28 and 38 weeks of pregnancy as this is the best time for them to create antibodies against the disease and pass it on to their baby prior to its birth. Babies carry this immunity until they can receive vaccination during the routine programme.

Image Credit: Jacob Bøtter

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