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Whooping cough vaccination campaign could be extended to adolescents

Public health experts are looking at whether booster vaccinations against whooping cough are needed for adolescents and other groups, amid warnings that recent declines in pertussis cases are unlikely to be sustained over the summer.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said is was looking at whether the current campaign in pregnant women should be made permanent and/or extended to other groups.

The JCVI is currently evaluating the results from the ongoing vaccination programme in pregnant women and said they were ‘encouraging’, with coverage of around 50–70% and less than 10 cases of pertussis reported monthly in infants less than three months old since January, after a peak of 50–55 cases per month last summer.

But the panel warned that, while the pertussis epidemic has continued to wane since it peaked last October, with cases currently declining across all age groups, the incidence would be expected to rise again in line with seasonality of the disease and recent experience in other countries.

Furthermore, according to minutes of the JCVI’s June meeting, ‘the Committee concluded that the temporary programme should continue but that further assessment should be considered as to whether to make the programme permanent and whether other groups such as adolescents should be routinely vaccinated’.

RCGP immunisation lead Dr George Kassianos, a GP in Bracknell, Berkshire, previously told Pulse that a booster vaccine should be introduced for children aged 12 to 14 years.

Latest figures from Public Health England released last week revealed that there were 380 confirmed cases of whooping cough in May, compared with 410 in April – and 682 in May last year. The majority of cases in May were still among people aged 15 years and older, but there were 10 cases among infants under a year old, and one baby – a one-month old infant whose mother had not received the vaccine during a pregnancy – died.

Department of Health chief of immunisation Professor David Salisbury recently called on GPs and other health professionals to keep up efforts to promote uptake of the vaccine among pregnant women.

In a letter to GPs, directors of public health and local NHS teams, Professor Salisbury wrote: ‘Thanks to the efforts of GPs, midwives and many others in local teams, around 60% of eligible pregnant women take the vaccine, but we do need to see this increase.’

He added: ‘I recognise this is a challenging time, with several new vaccination programmes being implemented at one time, but I want to urge you all to remain focused on promoting and encouraging women to take this vaccine, and to thank you for your efforts.’