27 cases of whooping cough in Plymouth this year prompts new jab policy
PREGNANT women in and around Plymouth are to be vaccinated against whooping cough as part of a national drive to tackle the rampant disease.
The biggest outbreak of the infectious illness for two decades has already claimed the lives of nine babies under the age of three months in England this year.
In the Plymouth PCT area there have been 27 cases this year to the end of August. There were only 12 cases in the area in the previous five years.
All pregnant women will now be offered vaccination against whooping cough when they are 28-38 weeks pregnant.
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Across England and Wales, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) said there had been 4,791 confirmed cases of whooping cough between January and August – more than four times the number reported during 2011.
Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies, the Government’s principal medical adviser, said mothers-to-be will be offered the vaccination to protect their newborn babies.
Youngsters cannot receive the jab until they are two months old. Vaccinating their mothers before they are born will boost their immunity until they reach the age they can get the injection themselves, Dame Sally said.
From Monday, women across the UK who are between 28 and 38 weeks pregnant will be offered the vaccination.
Increases in whooping cough are usually seen every three to four years. The last spike in the number of confirmed cases was recorded in 2008.
“Whooping cough is highly contagious and newborns are particularly vulnerable,” Dame Sally said
“It’s vital that babies are protected from the day they are born – that’s why we are offering the vaccine to all pregnant women.
“The idea is, because very young babies can’t make an immune response – an antibody against the vaccine – we are going to give this vaccine to the mothers so they make an antibody against it which will travel across the placenta into the baby.
“This will protect the baby from whooping cough up to the time of the first immunisation at eight weeks.”
However, the drug which is to be administered, Repevax, comes with the recommendation: “Limited post-marketing information is available on the safety of administering Repevax to pregnant women. The use of this combined vaccine is not recommended in pregnancy”.
But the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation – the independent panel of experts which advises the Government – said it had “no concerns” about the safety of the vaccine, which protects against whooping cough, diphtheria, tetanus and polio.
Dame Sally added: “Clearly we don’t want pregnant women taking medication of any form unless it’s necessary.
“But I can’t stress enough that this is an important thing that pregnant women can do to protect their baby.”
The vaccine is similar to the one used in the same programme in the US. It will be administered through routine antenatal appointments with nurses, midwives or GPs.
While whooping cough can cause nasty symptoms in adults, it does not usually cause any long-lasting complications and can be treated with antibiotics. But in the very young it can be a serious or deadly illness.
Caused by a highly-contagious bacterium called Bordetella pertussis, which can be passed from person to person through droplets in the air from coughing and sneezing, symptoms usually take between six and 20 days to appear after infection.
Babies and children often make a distressing “whoop” sound while gasping for air after a coughing fit, while older children and adults tend to suffer a prolonged cough.