Public health chiefs in England have urged GPs to keep up efforts to make sure pregnant women have the pertussis vaccination, despite new figures showing the number of cases of whooping cough in babies has dropped by nearly 80% since the campaign was introduced.
Public Health England (PHE) said whooping cough cases fell by 51% overall in 2013, with a total of 4,623 cases confirmed compared with 9,367 in 2012. The biggest reduction was in cases among infants under three months, which fell by 79% to 85 cases, down from 407 the previous year.
The Department of Health introduced the pertussis booster programme for pregnant women in September 2012 in response to an ongoing whooping cough outbreak.
PHE said around 60% of pregnant women had received the vaccination at the last count, showing there has been an ‘encouraging increase in vaccine uptake over the last six months’, but warned the infection is still circulating and GPs should make sure they ‘have all the facts at hand’ to make sure women make the decision to have the jab.
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at PHE, said: ‘The continued reduction in cases of whooping cough is welcome news, but unfortunately we still confirmed the infection in three babies who died in 2013. The babies were too young to have been vaccinated themselves and none of their mothers had been vaccinated in pregnancy.’
Dr Ramsay added: ‘The increase in vaccine uptake over the last six months is very encouraging but we need to ensure we vaccinate as many pregnant women as possible to avoid further tragic deaths. Although we have also seen a decline in cases in older children and adults between 2012 and 2013, the numbers still remain considerably higher than in 2011 suggesting that the infection is still circulating.’
‘While the infection remains at such high levels we are urging pregnant women to ensure they are vaccinated between 28 and 38 weeks of pregnancy. We are also working with GPs, midwives and other health professionals to ensure they have the facts at hand to help women make the decision to vaccinate.’