HEALTH Minister Edwin Poots has announced a vaccination programme against whooping cough (also known as pertussis) for pregnant women who are 28 weeks and above.
Following an upsurge of whooping cough cases across the UK, the vaccination programme will commence on October 1 and will be carried out by GPs who will invite all eligible pregnant women for vaccination.
GPs should begin by arranging vaccination of pregnant women who are more than 35 weeks pregnant as soon as possible, while planning the full programme
The Health Minister said: “In older children and adults whooping cough tends to be less serious but for very young children the illness can be very serious and in some cases is fatal.
“While we continue to have a very successful vaccination programme in place to vaccinate babies against whooping cough, there has been a sharp rise in the number of infections in babies under three months who are too young to have received all three primary doses.
“Therefore, based on advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), I have asked for a temporary vaccination programme to be introduced to vaccinate all pregnant women who are 28 weeks and above, against whooping cough. This will help to protect children from birth until they are old enough to be immunised themselves.”
The Minister added: “It is very important for all pregnant women to take up the offer of vaccination once they are contacted by their local GP. This will be the only way to protect their new born babies from whooping cough until they can be immunised.”
The recent upsurge of whooping cough cases across the UK has been much more pronounced than previous years with over three times as many cases being reported than during the last upsurge in 2008. In Northern Ireland, there were 192 laboratory confirmed cases by mid September this year, compared to 15 for the whole of 2011 and 13 for the whole of 2010.
In particular, there has been a sharp rise in the number of infections in those under three months of age.
The JCVI, a body of independent experts who advise the four UK Health Ministers, advised that protection should be provided to infants too young to be routinely vaccinated, and agreed that offering vaccination against whooping cough to pregnant women could provide important protection to young infants during the first few weeks of life.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride said: “New born babies are likely to have little or no protection against whooping cough as they cannot be vaccinated and the protection their mothers gained from previous childhood vaccination is likely to have waned significantly. As a result there may be little protection for mothers to pass on to their babies when in the womb.
“Antibodies produced by pregnant women in response to the vaccination helps to fight infection and reduce the severity of infections when they occur. During the third trimester of pregnancy, antibodies produced by pregnant woman are passed on to the unborn baby across the placenta. When the baby is born, these antibodies should provide some protection against disease for the first few weeks of life.
“In Northern Ireland, we achieve very high uptake rates for the routine vaccination of babies at two, three and four months of age and the pre-school booster but I would again encourage all parents to give their children the best protection and ensure they receive all their routine vaccinations.”
Further information on whooping cough for pregnant women can be found at http://www.nidirect.gov.uk/whooping
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