Whooping cough jabs to be made available to pregnant women in Northants

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Pregnant women in Northamptonshire will be offered whooping cough vaccinations as part of a nationwide drive to protect their newborn babies following a rise in cases and deaths amongst young infants.

Due to begin next week, the programme aims to boost the short-term immunity passed on by pregnant women to protect their newborn babies who normally cannot be vaccinated until they are two months old.

According to figures published today, there were 576 confirmed cases in the East Midlands region in the first eight months of this year, compared with 59 in 2011 and 16 in 2010;

In the first eight months of this year 302 cases were reported in infants under 12 weeks, more than double the 115 cases reported in the same period in 2011. There were nine deaths of young children in the same period, up from seven in the whole of 2011.

The decision to introduce the temporary programme was made after the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation – the Government’s independent vaccine experts - reviewed the available evidence and agreed that the vaccine should be offered to the approximate 650,000 women a year who are between 28 and 38 weeks of pregnancy.

The vaccine will be offered to pregnant women during routine antenatal appointments with a nurse, midwife or GP.

Even if women have previously been immunised they will be encouraged to be vaccinated again to boost their immunity, as it helps protect their babies before they can start their own immunisations.

The temporary programme will start next week and will be monitored by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) and Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies said: “Whooping cough is highly contagious and newborns are particularly vulnerable. It’s vital that babies are protected from the day they are born – that’s why we are offering the vaccine to all pregnant women.”

Last June, children’s department staff at Northampton General Hospital had to be vaccinated after a doctor was diagnosed with whooping cough.

Whooping cough affects the respiratory tract and often occurs in epidemics. After an incubation period of up to two weeks there is an initial infection followed by a increasingly severe cough, characterised by the ‘whoop’ as the child gasps for breath, which can last six weeks.

Among the dangers are complications such as pneumonia. The child can also become exhausted and stop breathing.

The Health protection Agency says the infection can be treated with a course of antibiotics to prevent it spreading further, but young infants may need hospital care due to the risk of severe complications.