GPs are to continue to vaccinate pregnant women against whooping cough ‘until further notice’, after recent figures showed the programme had high uptake rates and cases of the illness were falling.
The Department of Health announced that a review of the temporary programme by the Joint Committee of Vaccinations and Immunisations had concluded the campaign should continue, and that NHS England would be re-commissioning the service shortly.
Recent Health Protection Agency (now a part of Public Health England) data show that in January this year almost 60% of pregnant women were vaccinated against whooping cough, and cases of the illness fell.
There were 668 cases reported in January 2013, down from 835 cases in December 2012, and this was the third consecutive month in which the numbers of reported cases had fallen.
The DH launched their £10 million programme in September last year, after a total of 9,741 cases of whooping cough were reported in England and Wales in 2012, more than ten times higher than the number of cases reported in 2011.
NHS England will commission the programme for pregnant women this year until further notice, and will collect data to assess the vaccine’s uptake, the DH said.
The DH’s March Vaccine Update said: ‘In light of recent advice from JCVI, the NHS Commissioning Board will continue the pertussis immunisations programme for pregnant women in 2013/14 until further notice, with collection of data to support assessment of vaccine coverage.
‘An announcement and the continuation of the temporary programme and the accompanying data collection will be made in the next few weeks in a letter to the NHS organisations from the Department of Health, the NHS Commissioning Board and Public Health England.’
Women aged between 28 and 38 weeks pregnant now receive the Repevax vaccine as part of their routine antenatal appointment with a nurse, midwife or GP, with GPs paid the standard IOS fee of £7.60 for administering the vaccine.
But earlier this year Pulse revealed that the brunt of the work was falling on GPs shoulders, as midwives felt they did not have the capacity or training to administer the vaccine. GPs were also responsible for chasing up patients to ensure all eligible women received the vaccine.
Dr George Kassianos, the RCGP immunisation lead and a GP in Bracknell, Berkshire, welcomed the extension of the programme but called for a booster vaccination for school children too.
He said: ‘This is what was expected. We couldn’t stop the programme now, with the risk of the spread of the disease still there. Numbers have fallen and this is thanks to the programme. We haven’t lost any babies and that is thanks to the programme.’
‘But the disease is still circulating. We need to continue to vaccinate pregnant women. We also need to introduce booster vaccine for adolescents aged 12 to 14 years.’
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