At-risk patients need whooping cough booster jabs, RCGP says

Whooping cough booster jabs may need to be given to at-risk groups as the largest surge of the illness in decades continues, the RCGP has said.

Vaccines are given to babies and young children as part of a childhood vaccination schedule. Combined vaccines speed up this process. (SPL)

RCGP immunisation spokesman Dr George Kassianos told GP that government advisers needed to look again at all at-risk groups and whether they should be given extra vaccine doses.

There were 1,781 confirmed cases of pertussis in England and Wales in the first five months of 2012, compared to a total of 1,118 cases across the whole of 2011, Health Protection Agency (HPA) figures show. This represents the largest surge in cases since the early 1990s.

In infants under three months, 138 cases were reported to the end of May 2012, including five deaths.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA), which released the data, said that waning immunity is likely to be contributing to the rise.

HPA research has previously suggested that jabs should be given to adolescents, pregnant women and some adults to boost immunity and protect babies too young for vaccines.

Dr Kassianos said the current situation was ‘a problem’. ‘We have a vaccine, but it hasn’t been accepted,’ he said. ‘I would like the JCVI to look at it again.’

Dr Kassianos said the main target group was likely to be 14- to 15-year-olds, a group the JCVI has recently considered vaccinating. But he said the committee also needed to look at all at-risk groups and decide who should receive extra pertussis vaccines.

‘I am sure they will do something about it,’ he said. ‘Other countries already have, so there is no reason why we cannot.’

Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at the HPA, has said the HPA is ‘very concerned’ about the ongoing increase in pertussis cases.

'The HPA has written to GPs to remind them of the signs and symptoms of this infection and stress the importance of vaccination,’ she said last week.

‘The agency is also encouraging GPs to report cases quickly to reduce the spread of the infection and make them aware of the HPA’s guidance for the management of whooping cough cases.'

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