Nurses and health visitors should encourage women who are 28 weeks pregnant or more to get a whooping cough vaccine, the Public Health Agency (PHA) has advised.
Whooping cough is a disease that can cause long bouts of coughing and choking, which can make it hard to breathe, and it can be very serious for young children and fatal for babies under one year old, Dr Richard Smithson, consultant in health protection at the charity, explained.
Vaccination of babies should be routinely offered at two, three and four months of age, and given at a GP surgery, with a booster administered three years later.
Smithson advised: “Vaccination during pregnancy allows antibodies to pass from the pregnant mother to her unborn child and helps protect the baby in the first few weeks of life. The programme has been very successful – the baby’s risk of being infected is reduced by over 90% if the mother gets the vaccine, so we need to make sure that every mum gets vaccinated.
“The best time to get the vaccine is between 28 and 32 weeks of pregnancy, but if a woman misses out during this time, she can still get it after 32 weeks.”
Parents should also be warned about the symptoms of whooping cough, which include severe coughing fits with a characteristic ‘whoop’ sound in young children, and by a prolonged cough in older children or adults.