whoopingUptake of the whooping cough vaccine in pregnant mothers has been "extraordinarily good" in England according to the Department of Health.

Three babies died from whooping cough in October as one of the worst outbreaks of the disease in decades continues but a UK-wide campaign to vaccinate pregnant women has been under way since the autumn.

A month after the scheme was announced, 44% of eligible women in England had had the jab in an effort to halt the spread of the illness which has seen 7,728 infections this year alone with deaths in newborns, who are most at risk of fatal complications, numbering 13 this year.

Director of immunisation Prof David Salisbury said: "It really is an extraordinarily good result. October's the first month we've got figures and to go straight in at 40% is fantastic."

He said the figures were better than for flu vaccine uptake in pregnant women, but he still wanted more women to take up the offer.

Whooping cough in adulthood is rarely life-threatening but the vaccine has been created to protect newborn babies who will not begin their childhood vaccines until two months of age.

The infection can stop a baby breathing or lead to pneumonia, brain damage, weight loss and death.

It is still too early to fully assess the success of the scheme. Early data shows that in August, there were 72 infections in children under the age of one. That fell to 67 when the vaccination programme started in mid-September and fell again to 46 in October.

Dr David Elliman, from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said the figures were "not bad at all" considering how quickly the vaccination programme was introduced.

He added: "Obviously you want to aim much higher, but I would expect it to go up.

"There has been quite a lot of publicity about deaths in babies, which would have tipped it [in favour of having the jab] for many pregnant mothers."

There are surges in whooping cough cases every three to four years. However, the current outbreak has affected nearly 10 times as many people as the previous outbreak in 2008.

Posted 13/12/2012 by richard.hook@pavpub.com