Rise in whooping cough cases causes vaccination rethink
Health experts concerned about the massive rise in the number of cases of whooping cough seen this year are considering vaccinating pregnant women, newborns and their families in an effort to prevent the spread of the disease.
There have been over 3,500 cases of whooping cough reported so far this year, compared to 1,118 in the whole of 2011.
Whooping cough is a highly infectious disease, characterised by a “whooping” sound when found in young children, and by severe, prolonged fits of coughing in older children and adults.
This year’s outbreak has mainly affected teenagers and young adults – although six babies, all under the age of three months, have died so far.
Young babies are considered most at risk, because they don’t receive the benefits of vaccination until they are around four months old and are currently given the injections at eight weeks, 12 weeks and 16 weeks, with one booster jab given before they start primary school.
Government advisers are now said to be considering whether or not to introduce the vaccination for pregnant mothers and the older siblings and direct family members of babies in a process known as “cocooning”, as well as offering a second booster shot for teenagers.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said that the outbreak highlights the general importance of vaccination. He went on to say: “The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation is looking at whether more people need to be vaccinated. Parents should make sure their children are up to date with all vaccinations, and should speak to their GP if they need advice.”
Dr Gayatri Amirthalingam, an expert in immunisation at the HPA, advised that parents keep their children away from any adults or older siblings suffering from the illness.
He added that “parents should ensure their children are vaccinated on time so that they are protected at the earliest opportunity.”