Pertussis jab coverage may need to expand

Whooping cough jabs may need to be given to adolescents and adults to boost falling immunity and to pregnant women to protect unborn children, HPA research suggests.

Whooping cough jabs may need to be given to adolescents to boost immunity (Photograph: SPL)
Whooping cough jabs may need to be given to adolescents to boost immunity (Photograph: SPL)

Dr Helen Campbell, who is based at the HPA's Centre for Infections, said that a number of future strategies were needed to tackle rising case numbers.

Speaking at the HPA's health protection conference in Coventry last week, she said that concern had been raised by data showing an increase in cases since 2006.

In 2008, cases exceeded those seen before 2001 when a booster dose was introduced into children’s vaccine schedule.

The HPA’s study on the epidemiology of pertussis in England and Wales from 1994 to 2009 showed that pertussis was well controlled in young infants.

However, it remains the most common vaccine-preventable disease in under one-year-olds. Cases among older children, in particular those aged over 10 years, have increased over the past few years. But this, Dr Campbell said, is principally a result of improved diagnosis of cases, rather than a true increase in prevalence.

However future strategies will need to stem rises in cases among adolescents and adults and to reduce cases among children under one year old.

'The big question at the moment and debates internationally are what future control strategies should be considered,' she said.

‘One that is the forerunner is adolescent and adult boosters. A number of countries have already introduced adolescent boosters, including the US, France and Germany.’

Dr Campbell added that US data suggest there has been a direct impact on those immunised, but that the added benefit of an impact on the youngest infants has not yet been shown.

'Other possibilities are immunisation during pregnancy to offer support to neonatal protection until the baby is ready to be immunised and neonatal immunisation for similar reasons,’ she said. ‘But we need to generate a lot more data before embarking on these.’

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