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Whooping cough cases continue to rise

New data published last week (09.05.2024) by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) shows cases of whooping cough continue to increase with 1,319 cases confirmed in March. This follows 556 cases in January and 918 in February, bringing the total number of cases in 2024 to 2,793.

Young infants are at highest risk of severe complications and death from whooping cough. Updated estimates of vaccine effectiveness in pregnancy shows high levels of protection (92%) against infant death.

Uptake of vaccinations that protect against whooping cough have fallen in recent years across the country – in both the programme for pregnant women and the infant programme. Timely vaccination in pregnancy and in infancy are both important to protect vulnerable young babies from serious disease.

If you’re pregnant, it’s important to take up the Pertussis vaccine when offered. It helps to protect your baby in their first few weeks of life, as Whooping Cough can be life-threatening & require hospital treatment.

When you have the whooping cough vaccination in pregnancy, your body produces antibodies to protect against whooping cough. These antibodies pass to your baby through the placenta giving them high levels of protection until they’re able to have their own whooping cough vaccination from 8 weeks old.

Vaccines can be given at an antenatal appointment from as early as 16 weeks and women remain eligible beyond 32 weeks until they give birth. The vaccine is usually offered to women after their 20-week scan

Women can still have the vaccine in late pregnancy but it may not be as effective because there is less time for protection from the mother to pass to their baby.

There are no safety concerns specific to having the vaccine during pregnancy.

What is Whooping Cough?

Whooping cough (medically known as pertussis) is a bacterial infection of the lungs and airways, which spreads very easily and can cause serious health problems for babies and young children. It causes long bouts of coughing and choking, making it hard to breathe. The “whoop” is caused by gasping for breath after each bout of coughing, though babies do not always make this noise which means whooping cough can be hard to recognise.
Read more about whooping cough symptoms.

Will the whooping cough vaccine in pregnancy give me whooping cough?

No. The whooping cough vaccine is not a “live” vaccine. This means it does not contain whooping cough (or polio, diphtheria or tetanus), and cannot cause whooping cough in you, or in your baby.

Which whooping cough vaccine will I be given?

As there is no whooping cough-only vaccine, the vaccine you’ll be given also protects against polio, diphtheria and tetanus. The vaccine is called Boostrix IPV

Will my baby still need to be vaccinated against whooping cough at 8 weeks if I’ve had the vaccine while pregnant?

Yes. Whenever you have the whooping cough vaccine, your baby will still need to be vaccinated according to the normal NHS vaccination schedule when they reach 8 weeks old. Babies are protected against whooping cough by the 6-in-1 vaccine

I was vaccinated against whooping cough as a child, do I need to get vaccinated again?

Yes, because any protection you may have had through either having whooping cough or
being vaccinated when you were young is likely to have worn off and will not protect your
baby

I was vaccinated against whooping cough in a previous pregnancy, do I need to be vaccinated again?

Yes, you should get re-vaccinated in each pregnancy to maximise protection for your baby

If you are more than 20 weeks pregnant and have not been offered the vaccine, talk to your midwife or GP and make an appointment to get vaccinated

UK Health Security Agency 2024

For more information on vaccinations: Pregnant? Immunisation helps to protect you and your baby from infectious diseases (publishing.service.gov.uk)