PHE data on vaccine coverage for May 2015 shows that GP practices are providing more women with the vaccine this year compared to previous years.
Around 55.2% of pregnant women received the vaccine last month, compared to 53.6% last year and 50% in May 2013. Coverage tends to be lower at this time of year in line with the seasonal dip seen in the disease.
But surveillance data for January-March 2015 shows that the number of confirmed whooping cough cases increased from 12 to 16 compared to the same time last year – a rise of 33%. One infant death was confirmed in this period.
In a health protection report, PHE said: ‘Pertussis continues to persist at heightened levels in the population and so GPs and midwives should continue to encourage pregnant women to book an appointment to receive the pertussis vaccine, ideally between weeks 28 and 32 of their pregnancy, but up to week 38.’
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) announced last year that the pertussis vaccination programme for pregnant women would be extended for an additional five years.
Research has shown that newborns with immunised mothers have a 91% reduced risk of contracting the disease.
The Health Protection Agency (HPA) – now a part of PHE – declared a national outbreak of pertussis in April 2012, following a surge of whooping cough cases which was linked to several infant deaths.
This prompted a drive in which all pregnant women were offered the vaccine from 1 October that year to help protect infants during their vulnerable first weeks of life, during which they cannot receive the vaccine themselves.
Up to the end of March 2015, there have been 11 deaths in young babies with confirmed pertussis since the vaccination drive began. Of these, 10 were born to mothers who were not vaccinated.
Vaccinating pregnant women enables them to pass immunity to their unborn child, which persists in the period following birth. They can receive their own dose of the vaccine at eight weeks of age.