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CMO Wales: Newborns to be protected against whooping cough

Pregnant women will be offered whooping cough vaccinations to protect their newborn babies following a rise in cases and deaths amongst young infants, Chief Medical Officer for Wales Dr Ruth Hussey has announced.

Due to begin in October, 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.

The move comes as the latest figures for England and Wales, released recently by the Health Protection Agency, show a large increase in cases in young infants. The figures show:

  • In the first eight months of the year, 302 cases were reported in infants under 12 weeks of age – more than double the 115 cases reported in the same period in 2011; 
  •  There were nine deaths of young children in England the same period – up from seven in the whole of 2011; and
  • From January to August 2012, 4,791 cases in all ages were reported – three times more than the whole of 2011 which saw 1118 cases.

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

The vaccine will be discussed with pregnant women during routine antenatal appointments and given through GP surgeries.

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 in October and will be monitored by Public Health Wales and Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Chief Medical Officer for Wales Dr Ruth Hussey said:

“Whooping cough can be treated successfully with antibiotics and most people make a full recovery, but it is highly contagious. Newborn babies are affected most severely by whooping cough, and are most at risk of developing complications.

“Nine infants in England have died as a result of whooping cough this year. There have been no infant deaths associated with the illness so far this year in Wales, but we must not be complacent. 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.”

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