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As the NHS returns to a ‘new normal’, all pregnant women are being urged to receive their free vaccination against whooping cough. Women who are between 16 to 32 weeks pregnant should contact their GP practice or midwife to make an appointment.

Although vaccination rates are generally rising in the South West (76% of pregnant women in Somerset had the vaccination in March 2020 compared to 71.1% in April 2019), significant numbers of women are still not taking up the offer of protection for their babies.

Whooping cough – known medically as pertussis – is an infection which can create serious breathing difficulties, particularly in babies and young children. It can lead to major health complications such as brain damage and pneumonia and can be fatal. 

Ian Biggs, Director of Primary Care and Public Health Commissioning at NHS England and NHS Improvement, said:

“People often think of whooping cough as an illness from days gone by – but it is a real threat to babies and young children right now.

“Our GPs and maternity services have stringent measures in place during the pandemic to protect both mother and baby. All our dedicated NHS staff will be using the correct infection-control measures and protective equipment – to ensure we can vaccinate in the safest possible manner”

Dr Matthew Dominey, Public Health Consultant at Public Health England, said:

“We know that getting vaccinated while you’re pregnant is the best way to protect your baby from pertussis during the early stage of life.

“The best time to be vaccinated is between 16 and 32 weeks of women’s pregnancy and I would encourage all women to talk to their GP or midwife to obtain this important vaccine.”

Nationally, the number of confirmed cases of whooping cough in infants less than 1 year of age was higher in 2019 than in 2018.

The vaccine routinely available to pregnant women is highly-effective at protecting infants before they can have their first vaccinations, at two months of age.

Research published from the UK vaccination programme shows that babies born to women vaccinated at least a week before birth had a 91% reduced risk of becoming ill with whooping cough in their first week of life.

An additional benefit is that the mother will lower her own risk of infection and of passing whooping cough on to her baby.

For added convenience, the vaccine can also be given at the same time as flu immunisation, once the annual flu programme gets under way this September.