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Pregnant women urged to immunise against whooping cough

Public Health England says just under half the pregnant population of England remain unprotected against potentially fatal disease

Newly released figures support the call for pregnant women to be immunised against whooping cough after they showed cases of the disease remain at a raised level in England.

Public Health England (PHE) wants more expectant mothers to have the pertussis vaccine after revealing that between April 1 2014 and March 31 this year, the coverage for the country averaged 56.4% despite its findings showing the risk of developing the disease reduced by 91% if vaccinated a week before birth.

While cases of whooping cough in babies under three months old remain low, indicating the immunisation programme begun in 2012 is working, the overall number of incidents remains high – up from 1,412 between January and June 2014 to 1,744 during the same period this year.

Whooping cough is an acute respiratory infection, which usually begins with mild, cold-like symptoms that develop into coughing fits that can be severe. The cough can often last for two to three months but can also be fatal.

For the first time, the data shows coverage varies significantly by ethnicity with the highest found in people who are white-British, Chinese and Indian, and lowest in black and ‘other’ ethnic groups.

Immunisation should ideally take place between 28 and 32 weeks of pregnancy while a flu shot is also highly recommended. 

Royal College of Midwives director for midwifery Louise Silverton said: 'This has our support and we echo this appeal for pregnant women to have this vaccine during pregnancy. Whooping cough can have fatal consequences for a child and they are particularly vulnerable in the first two months of life, when they are effectively unprotected against this disease until they have their first vaccination at two months.'
 
'Women must also be aware of the importance of having the seasonal flu vaccination as soon as they become pregnant.  If any pregnant woman is unsure about either of these vaccines, I would urge them to speak to their midwife or doctor to discuss the issue.'
 

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