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Experts back extension of pertussis jab scheme for pregnant women

A vaccination programme which enables mothers-to-be to protect their babies from a potentially fatal infection should continue for another five years, health experts have said.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation advised that the scheme to protect babies against whooping cough should be extended.

“These infant deaths reminds us how important it is that every pregnant woman is informed about the benefits of the vaccine”

Mary Ramsay

As a result of an outbreak of the infection in 2012, the Department of Health announced that pregnant women would be temporarily offered the vaccination which protects against the infection.

Newborns cannot receive the jab until they are two-months-old but vaccinating their mothers when they are 28 to 38 weeks pregnant before they are born will boost their immunity until they reach the age when they can have the injection themselves, officials said.

This Gram-stained photomicrograph depicts numbers of Bordetella pertussis bacteria, which is the etiologic pathogen for pertussis, also known as whooping cough.

Bordetella pertussis bacteria

Since the vaccination programme was rolled out, eight babies who had whooping cough − also known as pertussis − have died.

The mothers of seven of these infants had not taken part in the immunisation programme, Public Health England figures show.

The authority welcomed the new advice from the committee.

PHE’s head of immunisation Dr Mary Ramsay said: “The latest figures show that around 60% of pregnant women have received the whooping cough vaccination, which is a testament to the health professionals implementing this programme.

“However, these infant deaths reminds us how important it is that every pregnant woman is informed about the benefits of the vaccine, and given the opportunity to receive it at the right time so their babies are protected from birth,” she said.

“Although we have also seen a decline in cases in older children and adults from the peak in 2012, the numbers still remain considerably higher than those in 2011, suggesting the infection has not fallen to background levels,” she added.

Dr Ramsey said she was urging pregnant women to ensure they were vaccinated between 28 and 32 weeks of their pregnancy wherever possible – though vaccination may be given up to 38 weeks.

Public Health England

Mary Ramsay

“We are also working with GPs, midwives and other health professionals to ensure they have the facts at hand to help women take up this highly effective and safe vaccine,” she said.

From July 2014, women should be vaccinated against pertussis using Boostrix IPV, rather than Repevax.

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