Jab for every pregnant woman amid explosion of whooping cough

PREGNANT women are to be immunised against whooping cough in a bid to protect their babies, after a rise in cases in newborns.

The temporary programme for mothers-to-be is being introduced after health officials discovered Scotland suffered the worst outbreak of the disease since the 1980s.

Health Protection Scotland has reported 1,037 confirmed cases of whooping cough –which is also known as pertussis – so far this year. This compares to 61 cases over the same period in 2011.

Sign up to our public interest bulletins - get the latest news on the Coronavirus

Sign up to our public interest bulletins - get the latest news on the Coronavirus

A total of 65 of the cases this year were reported in babies under the age of three months. Newborn children are not normally vaccinated until they are at least eight weeks old.

Now, mothers-to-be are to be vaccinated so they can pass on some short-term immunity to their babies when they are born.

The temporary immunisation programme is being brought in after the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisations recommended offering the vaccine to those women who are between 28 weeks and 38 weeks pregnant.

Public health minister Michael Matheson said: “We know that whooping cough is highly contagious and it can be most serious for young babies under the age of one. Over recent months, we have seen an increase in cases of whooping cough and this vaccination programme aims to give newborn babies the protection they need.”

He also urged parents to ensure children are vaccinated against the disease “to help stop further spread of the virus”.

Scotland’s most senior doctor, Chief Medical Officer Sir Harry Burns, said: “Whooping cough in older children and adults is generally mild, but it may spread to younger, more vulnerable infants and babies. Although no infants in Scotland have died as a result of whooping cough this year, there have been 65 cases of the disease in children under three months old.”

“All children are already offered vaccinations against the infection when they are eight weeks old and uptake is very high at over 95 per cent.

“However, very young babies cannot be vaccinated and for the first few months of life they are very vulnerable. It is vital that when there is more whooping cough circulating, we do all we can to protect these newborns and vaccinating pregnant women is the best way.”

In most cases, mothers-to-be will be offered the vaccination during routine ante-natal appointments with a nurse, midwife or GP. Even if women have been vaccinated against the disease before, they are being urged to have the jab to boost their immunity as it can help protect their baby before the child has its own immunisations.

The temporary vaccination programme will begin next week and initially run for six months.