GPs urged to drive up pertussis vaccine coverage as infant deaths confirmed

GPs should aim to vaccinate more pregnant women against pertussis to protect newborns, Public Health England (PHE) has warned, as the disease remains at 'elevated levels' with two infant deaths confirmed for 2015.

Pertussis vaccine coverage in pregnant women stood at 55.2% in May 2015 compared to 53.6% and 50% over the last two years, but PHE said more women should be vaccinated to help push down the number of infant cases of whooping cough further.

GPonline reported in June that infant pertussis cases had risen 33% compared to last year, showing that England remains affected by the national outbreak of whooping cough in 2012.

The latest laboratory figures show there were 1,744 confirmed cases of the disease in 2015 up until the end of June – an increase on last year, but below initial outbreak levels.

Research has shown that newborns with immunised mothers have a 91% reduced risk of contracting the disease.

Pertussis vaccine

Coverage figures also revealed that white-British, Chinese and Indian ethnic groups are the most likely to take up the vaccine, with the lowest coverage being in black and ‘other’ ethnic groups.

Professor John Watson, deputy CMO of England, said: ‘Babies too young to start their vaccinations are at greatest risk from whooping cough. It’s an extremely distressing illness that can lead to young babies being admitted to hospital and can potentially be fatal.

‘Deaths in infants with whooping cough have reduced significantly since the introduction of the vaccine for pregnant women in 2012 so I encourage all pregnant women to take up the pertussis vaccine when offered.’

He added the importance that pregnant women are also vaccinated against flu come October ahead of the upcoming flu season.

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