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No link between pertussis vaccine and stillbirth, say researchers

Vaccination against whooping cough poses little danger to pregnant women or their unborn children, a study has found.

The first analysis of data from 20,074 women who took part in the first six months of the pertussis booster programme found no evidence of increased risk of stillbirth in the 14 days after the vaccine was given or later in pregnancy, compared with national historical rates, according to the study published today in the BMJ.

The study, led by Katherine Donegan, pharmacoepidemiologist at the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulator (MHRA), also revealed that there was no link between the vaccination and rates of premature delivery, pre-eclampsia, low birth weight or neonatal renal failure.

The findings will provide reassurance to GPs, who have been encouraged to recommend pertussis vaccination to pregnant women since 2012 as part of a £10 million temporary programme targeting women at between 28 and 38 weeks’ gestation.

The vaccination programme was introduced as the UK experienced its largest increase in whooping cough activity in over two decades. Although most cases were identified in adolescents and young adults, the highest rates of morbidity and mortality were in infants too young to be vaccinated themselves.

In May this year, Pulse reported that the number of cases of whooping cough in babies dropped by nearly 80% after the GP-led programme began. Over 500,000 women (50-60% of those eligible) have received the vaccination since October 2012, with no reports of safety concerns.

The Department of Health wrote to GPs in May 2013 to say that the temporary programme would be extended ‘until further notice’, pending advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.


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