A seven-year low in uptake for whooping cough vaccines has sparked concerns about the serious risk of newborns being hospitalised, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has said.
Latest data shows that uptake of the maternal whooping cough vaccine in 2022 fell to 61.5% across England and 41.4% in London, the lowest level since 2016 and 7.6% down since 2020.
Without vaccination, babies will not be protected from whooping cough in the first weeks of their life, leaving them vulnerable to a condition associated with difficulty breathing, pneumonia, permanent brain damage and even death, particularly in infants under six months.
Dr Gayatri Amirthalingam, consultant epidemiologist at UKHSA said that the high risk the disease poses to very young children meant it was ‘so important that all expectant mothers get the vaccine at the recommended time from 20 weeks, to give their babies the best protection from this serious and highly contagious disease’.
A recent study found that vaccination provided 89% protection against hospitalisation and 97% protection against death to the babies of vaccinated mothers.
Dr Amirthalingam said the programme had been ‘hugely successful in protecting newborn babies in the first weeks of life from serious disease and hospitalisation’.
Alison Morton, chief executive, Institute of Health Visiting said: ‘It can be easy to forget that pertussis is such a serious illness for many babies and pregnant women, and can have catastrophic and avoidable consequences for some.
‘Across the health and care system, we need to work together and strengthen services like health visiting, to ensure that all families are supported to make informed choices around vaccinations. The current national uptake level is too low and outbreaks of pertussis are inevitable. Sadly, as a consequence, too many lives will be unnecessarily harmed or cut short.’
Health minister Maria Caulfield said: ‘Whooping cough can have serious consequences on the health of new born babies, and in some cases it can be life threatening.
‘It’s really important we do what we can to protect the health of our babies, so I want to encourage all expectant mothers to come forward for the free whooping cough vaccine and give your baby the protection it needs.’