The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has recommended that the DH persists with the vaccination programme, after research revealed that newborns with immunised mothers faced a 91% reduced risk of contracting the disease.
Around 60% of pregnant women were vaccinated against whooping cough last year, which PHE said was ‘testament to the health professionals implementing this programme’.
The programme was initially implemented as a temporary measure in October 2012 to curb the high number of whooping cough cases, which were linked to several infant deaths.
Since then, the greatest decrease in incidence of the disease has been in infants under six months old, the age group targeted by the maternal vaccination programme.
Whooping cough still at 'elevated levels'
But health leaders said it was important to continue the programme because the disease was confirmed to have caused eight infant deaths in 2013 and so far this year. The mothers of seven out of the eight babies were not vaccinated during pregnancy. The disease claimed the lives of 14 infants in 2012.
Dr Mary Ramsay, PHE’s head of immunisation, said: ‘We welcome [the] JCVI’s advice that the vaccination programme for pregnant women is continued, particularly while whooping cough continues to circulate at elevated levels. It has been highly effective at preventing disease, and deaths in young babies.
‘However, these infant deaths remind us how important it is that every pregnant woman is informed about the benefits of the vaccine, and given the opportunity to receive it at the right time so their babies are protected from birth.’
Vaccinating pregnant women between 28 and 38 weeks enables them to pass immunity to their unborn child, protecting them until they are old enough to receive their own dose of the vaccine at two months.
Research on the programme’s effectiveness came as another study, by the MHRA, found that the vaccine posed no risk to pregnancy or the developing baby.
Dr Katherine Donegan, lead author of the MHRA study, said: ‘Our research should provide further reassurance on the safety and benefits of the vaccine for expectant mothers and healthcare professionals who offer the vaccine.’