GPs are to continue to vaccinate pregnant women against whooping cough for another five years after the Government announced today it was extending the programme.
The Department of Health said it will be working with NHS England to continue to offer the temporary programme following advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
The announcement came as a review by Public Health England shows the vaccine is ‘highly effective’ in protecting babies and there has been a fall in the number of whooping cough cases since the programme was introduced in 2010.
The £10m programme was introduced at the height of the largest increase in pertussis activity in over 20 years, in response to figures that showed the highest rates of morbidity and mortality were found in infants who were too young to be vaccinated.
Pulse reported in May this year that over 500,000 pregnant women had received a pertussis vaccine since the programme started, leading to to a drop of nearly 80% in the incidence of whooping cough in babies.
PHE research, published today in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, revealed babies born to women who receive the vaccination during pregnancy have a 91% reduced risk of falling ill with whooping cough in the first few weeks of life.
Figures, also released today by PHE, reveals there were eight deaths in babies diagnosed with whooping cough in 2013 and so far this year, compared to 14 deaths among those diagnosed with whooping cough in 2012 and born before the programme started.
However PHE warned that despite a fall in the number of cases, the numbers still remain ‘considerably higher’ than those in 2011 with whooping cough continuing to circulate at ‘elevated levels’. It said it was working with GPs and other health professionals to help women take up the offer of the vaccine, which is given at between 28 and 38 weeks of pregnancy.
Dr Mary Ramsey, head of immunisation at PHE, 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.’
The DH’s deputy chief medical officer, Professor John Watson, said that the advice to extend the vaccination programme would be welcomed by families.
He said: ‘Babies too young to start their vaccinations are at greatest risk from whooping cough. It’s an extremely distressing illness that can lead to young babies being admitted to hospital and can potentially be fatal.
‘We will work with NHS England to ensure the programme continues to be offered to mums-to-be.’
Last week a MHRA study of 20,074 women confirmed that there was no link between the maternal vaccination and incidences of stillbirth, premature delivery, pre-eclampsia, low birthweigh or neonatal renal failure.