Whooping Cough Vaccination
At Kensington Midwives we strongly advise you to have the Pertussis (Whooping Cough) vaccination which
is routinely offered to pregnant women between 28 and 32 weeks. Whooping cough is a highly infectious and
sometimes fatal infection caused by the Bordatella
pertussis bacteria. It remains the most common vaccine preventable cause of death in children
under the age of one year in the UK.
Transmission is by respiratory droplet with an incubation period of six and 20 days. Symptoms start
with a mucusy cold followed by an irritating cough which gradually becomes painful and has the
characteristic ‘whoop’. The cough can be prolonged over several weeks or months and in China it is
known as ‘the cough of 100 days’. Complications of whooping cough vary from minor such as nose
bleeds, mouth ulcers and ear ache to more severe complications such as pneumonia, weight loss,
cerebral hypoxia and death.
The vaccine was first introduced in 1957 and by the mid 1990’s 90% of two year olds had been
vaccinated against whooping cough. The vaccine is given to babies in the UK at two, three and four
months with a booster when they are three years old. Since 2011 there has been an increase in the
number of cases of pertussis infection mainly in adults and adolescents but there also have been a
number of infant deaths. As a result of this an immunisation programme was introduced in October
2012 offering the vaccination to pregnant women. It is given between 28 and 32 weeks gestation
with the aim of boosting the maternal pertussis antibodies so that they can cross the placental
barrier in the last trimester of pregnancy thus providing the baby with passive immunity to the
infection from birth. The programme is designed to complement the routine immunisations which
start at two months.
For some reason the uptake of this vaccine has been quite low especially in London (46%). However,
the immunisation programme has reduced deaths in neonates although fatalities have still occurred
in babies whose mothers were not immunised. The vaccine is normally administered by your
midwife or GP at 28 or 32 weeks and can be given together with the flu vaccine.