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GPs may have to immunise school leavers for pertussis

GPs may be asked to vaccinate 16-year-olds against whooping cough to protect younger children and babies.

If the pre-school pertussis campaign fails to halt the

rising tide of infection in infants, school leavers may need to be vaccinated, suggests a Health Protection Agency-led study.

And 67 per cent of cases in infants too young to have received three doses of DTP were contracted from an older sibling or parent, says the study.

The researchers, whose findings will be considered by the Government's Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said changes to vaccination policy should aim to reduce transmission to

infants by their parents and siblings.

Study co-author Professor Robert Booth, professor of child health at Queen Mary University of London, said the most effective way to achieve this was to concentrate resources on immunising school leavers.

He added: 'Serious consideration should be given to introducing a school leaver's vaccination at 16.'

He urged GPs to ensure children received all three

doses of DTP. 'If we can get high levels of herd immunity those patients too young to be vaccinated will be protected.'

The study, published in Archives of Disease in Childhood (September), looked at 126 infants under five months and 16 children aged five months to 15 years admitted to hospital with acute respiratory illness between 1998 and 2000.

Some 20 per cent of infants and 50 per cent of children had pertussis ­ but of these, whooping cough had only been suspected in 28 per cent and 75 per cent respectively.

RCGP immunisation spok- esman Dr George Kassianos said: 'Pertussis undoubtedly is circulating in our communities among children as well as adults. Most at risk are unimmunised neonates when older siblings who have lost their immunity or adults bring the infection home.'

Dr Kassianos, a GP in Bracknell, Berkshire, said: 'Vaccine immunity from DTP will persist for at least three years and diminish thereafter, hence the preschool booster with acellular pertussis.

'Ideally, a further dose should be given to school leavers but currently we have no pertussis vaccine licensed for this age,' he added.

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