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PHE asks GPs to boost pertussis vaccine uptake in pregnant women

The number of pertussis – or whooping cough – cases have remained elevated since the 2016 rise in activity, according to the latest figures from Public Health England.

The data, covering January to March this year, also saw that vaccine uptake has fallen compared with the same period in 2017, even after consideration of seasonal trends.

PHE has said GPs should be encouraging pregnant women to receive the vaccine to ‘optimise protection’ for their babies from birth.

The pertussis vaccination programme for pregnant women was introduced in 2012, following a rise in cases in newborn babies. It was then extended in 2014 for an additional five years, after it was found to have cut cases by 80% in just two years.

But the latest report, published last week, said: ‘Pertussis vaccine coverage decreased from 74.7% in December 2017 to 70.8% in March 2018, following the same seasonal trends as in previous years.

‘However, monthly coverage between January and March 2018 was between 0.9 and 2.4% below coverage reported for the same period in 2017 (1.7% below on average).’

PHE wrote in the document: ‘Disease levels remain elevated in older age groups and so unprotected young infants continue to be at risk of infection with the increased possibility of serious complications in this age group.

‘GPs, practice nurses, obstetricians and midwives should continue to encourage pregnant women to receive the pertussis vaccine, ideally between weeks 20 and 32 of their pregnancy (but up to term) to optimise protection for their babies from birth.’

It added that in areas where maternity units do not offer pertussis vaccines to pregnant women, staff should ‘signpost’ woman to their GP to receive the vaccine.

Following the introduction of the national programme, researchers found there was no link between the pertussis vaccine and stillbirth, after analysing over 20,000 women.