"Babies cannot be immunised against whooping cough until they are two months old. By having the vaccination while they are pregnant, women can pass on immunity that will protect their child from the day they are born until they are old enough to start being immunised themselves.
"New mothers who have not been vaccinated are also being offered the jab, to reduce their risk of passing the disease to their new babies. This applies to those mothers whose babies have not yet had their first vaccination (usually given at two months old).
"The vaccination is being offered by GP practices and I urge women who are at least six months pregnant to contact their practice and find out when they can have their vaccination.
"At this time of year it is also very important that pregnant women are immunised against flu. This is available to women at any stage of pregnancy and I would urge all pregnant women to have their vaccination to protect themselves and their unborn child."
Nine babies in England died from whooping cough in the first eight months of this year and there have been 302 cases of the disease in children under three months old.
Dr Alan Beattie, community paediatrician at Medway NHS Foundation Trust, said: "In the mid 1970s, uptake of whooping cough vaccine in Kent was approximately 25 per cent and in 1982 it was 60 per cent - so there is a high chance that pregnant women who are in their 30s have not been vaccinated."
The whooping cough vaccination is for all women from 28 weeks of pregnancy. A similar vaccine is already given to pregnant women in the US.
The decision to introduce the temporary programme was made after the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation – the Government’s independent vaccine experts - reviewed the available evidence.
The move comes as the latest figures, released by the Health Protection Agency, show a large increase in cases in babies:
- In England and Wales in the first eight months of this year, 302 cases were reported in babies under 12 weeks of age – more than double the 115 cases reported in the same period in 2011
- There were nine deaths of babies under three months in England in the same period – up from seven in the whole of 2011.
If women have more than one pregnancy while the programme lasts, they should be vaccinated each time to enable them to pass immunity to each child.
Whooping cough is also on the increase in the population as a whole:
- From January to August 2012, 4,791 cases of whooping cough in all ages were reported in England and Wales – three times more than the whole of 2011 which saw 1,118 cases
- There were 972 confirmed cases in the South East in the first eight months of this year, compared to 88 in 2011 and 40 in 2010.
1 October 2012