Whooping cough jab will now be offered to all pregnant women: Nine babies die in the worst outbreak for decades
All women who are between 28 and 38 weeks pregnant will be eligible for the vaccineThe UK is experiencing the worst whooping cough outbreak for 20 years
The Department of Health say it is a temporary measure until disease rates fall again
08:22 GMT, 28 September 2012
Time for action: Pregnant women will now be given the whooping cough jab in the womb
Every pregnant woman will be offered the whooping cough jab amid the worst outbreak in more than 20 years.
There have been nearly 5,000 cases of the illness already this year and nine babies have died.
For the first time the Government is to offer the vaccine to all pregnant women in the hope they will pass on protection to the foetus in the womb.
At present, babies are given a whooping cough jab when they are eight weeks old, followed by boosters at three and four months.
They cannot have their vaccine any sooner as their immune systems are not developed enough for it to be effective. All nine babies who died from whooping cough this year have been under the age of eight weeks.
If pregnant women are given the jab, they will make antibodies – proteins that fight infections – that are passed on to the foetus via the placenta. This will give the baby protection for the first few weeks of life.
The Department of Health insists that the injections are entirely safe and there is no risk they of harming the unborn baby or cause complications in the pregnancy.
From Monday, all women who are between 28 and 38 weeks pregnant will be able to get the jabs from their GP.
Professor David Salisbury, director of immunisation, said: ‘We’ve got a situation where there isn’t a choice. We’ve got a real problem and we’ve got babies dying.
‘We have a solution available to us that has a strong safety record.
‘The vaccine that we are offering to pregnant women has been recommended by experts and a similar vaccine is already given to pregnant women in the US.’
The Department of Health estimates that the immunisation programme will cost the taxpayer around £10million.
It is only a temporary measure however and the vaccinations will be halted as soon as the disease rates go down again. Since January, there have been 4,791 cases of whooping cough, three times as many as last year.
The last time rates were this high was in 1990 when there were 15,000 cases, and seven babies died.
The illness is rarely serious in adults – many will not even be aware they have it.
The Health Protection Agency is unclear as to why this outbreak is so severe but rates tend to go up and down every three or four years.If they are low for several years and few catch the infection, everyone’s immunity goes down.
So if the illness reappears – after being brought in from abroad, for example – the public is far more susceptible and rates go up again.
The HPA believes this latest outbreak may have its origins in mainland Europe or America, where rates are also very high.
Mothers are being offered the jab at between 28 and 38 weeks as experts believe this is when their antibodies will most effectively be passed to the newborns.
WHOOPING COUGH – THE CONTAGIOUS INFECTION THAT CAN BE DEADLY TO BABIES
Whooping cough is a highly contagious bacterial infection of the lungs and airways. The medical term for whooping cough is pertussis.
The condition usually begins with a persistent dry and irritating cough which progresses to intense bouts of coughing. These are followed by a distinctive 'whooping' noise. The coughing can last for around three months.
Other symptoms include raised temperature and vomiting after coughing.
Whooping cough is a cyclical disease with the number of cases peaking every 3-4 years. There is currently a peak occurring.
Whooping cough is caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis, which can be passed from person to person through droplets spread by coughs and sneezes.
It can be treated successfully with antibiotics and most people make a full recovery, however measures should be taken to stop it spreading.
Children with whooping cough should be kept away from school or nursery until they have taken antibiotics for five days. The same applies to adults returning to their workplace.
Young babies under the age of six months are likely to be admitted to hospital as they are most at risk of severe complications, such as serious breathing difficulties.
They will be treated in isolation to prevent the infection spreading and will be given antibiotics into a vein through a drip (intravenously).
In the UK, all pregnant women are now to be offered vaccination against whooping cough when they are 28-38 weeks pregnant to protect their babies from the infection in the first few weeks of life.
Children are vaccinated against whooping cough at two, three and four months of age, and again before starting school at about three years and four months of age. Read more about preventing whooping cough.
Source: NHS Choices
The Repevax jab, which is manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur, contains tiny amounts of dead Bordetella pertussis bacteria.
It cannot cause the illness but it is enough to provoke the body’s immune system to produce antibodies, which protect against it. But it may cause minor side effects such as a sore arm or a fever. The Department of Health is now urging GP surgeries to contact pregnant women to encourage them to come forward for their jabs.
Family doctors will be paid £7.60 for each vaccine carried out to compensate for the extra workload and time.
Around 650,000 women become pregnant every year although it is unlikely that all will get the jab.
Only about a quarter of pregnant women come forward for the flu jab. They have been offered it for the last two years.