KCC and Medway Council urge pregnant women to come forward for a whooping cough jab

A desperate appeal has been issued to pregnant women in Kent and Medway urging them to come forward for a whooping cough jab following the deaths of eight babies.

In a strongly worded joint message, public health officials at Kent County Council and Medway Council say infants who are too young to get their own vaccinations are now at the greatest risk.

Health officials are encouraging pregnant women to come forward for a jab. Image: iStock.
Health officials are encouraging pregnant women to come forward for a jab. Image: iStock.

Eight babies have died from whooping cough since January, says the UK Health Security Agency.

It has not been confirmed exactly where those deaths occurred.

Public health teams in the county are backing calls from the UKHSA and NHS to get all pregnant mums vaccinated against whooping cough to protect their babies during their early weeks of life.

The bacterial infection of the lungs and breathing tubes, also known as pertussis, can spread very easily and sufferers can be left feeling unwell for weeks or even months - earning the illness the nickname the ‘100 day cough’.

The first signs of whooping cough are similar to a cold - such as a runny nose and a sore throat - but as the infection takes hold coughing bouts develop that can last for minutes and are worse at night.

The jab protects tiny babies during their early weeks of life. Image: iStock.
The jab protects tiny babies during their early weeks of life. Image: iStock.

Experts fear that a steady fall in the number of patients coming forward for a vaccine together with reduced population immunity because of social distancing measures during the pandemic may both be contributing to the current rise.

However updated estimates of vaccine effectiveness in pregnancy, says the UKHSA, show high levels of protection (92%) against infant death.

The cough may last for several weeks or months. Image: iStock.
The cough may last for several weeks or months. Image: iStock.

Getting the jab

Pregnant women are routinely offered a whooping cough vaccine in every pregnancy, ideally between 20 and 32 weeks, and this passes protection to their unborn child and protects them until they’re old enough for their own injections..

All babies are then given three doses of the 6 in 1 jab at eight, 12 and 16 weeks of age to protect against whooping cough and other serious diseases - followed by a pre-school booster after children turn three.

Kent County Council’s Director of Public Health, Dr Anjan Ghosh, said cases of the illness are continuing to rise very sharply and it’s critical that women come forward.

He said: “There can be no stronger reminder that while whooping cough can affect people of all ages, the disease can be life-threatening for young infants and it is important families come forward to get the protection they need.

“This is particularly so for pregnant mothers who can pass on the immunity they get from the vaccine to their unborn child. This ensures babies are protected until they are old enough to receive their own vaccinations from 8 weeks.”

Babies will be offered further protection during their first three months. Image: iStock.
Babies will be offered further protection during their first three months. Image: iStock.

Families who know that they - or their children - are without vaccinations should contact their GP surgery.

Medway Council’s Acting Director of Public Health, Dr David Whiting, added: “Whooping cough is an unpleasant illness which can spread easily and can cause serious complications, especially for babies and young children.

“Vaccination is the best form of defence; we have to help keep our loved ones safe and healthy, and I would encourage parents and carers to make sure their children are up to date with all of their vaccinations, including whooping cough.”

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