The government has launched an immunisation programme for pregnant women, but it is not yet clear what impact this will have, reports The Guardian

Babies are routinely immunised against whooping cough from the age of two months, but many of the deaths have occurred while babies are unprotected in the first weeks of life.

There were 1,614 cases of whooping cough in England and Wales in October, bringing the total this year to 7,728, nearly 10 times higher than the same period in 2008, the previous peak.

Experts have been left baffled as to what has caused the outbreak.There has not been a crisis of confidence in the vaccination – as there was with the MMR vaccine, leading to a surge of measles cases. Neither has there been a shortage of vaccine or reports of increased waiting times at GP surgeries.,

Dr Gayatri Amirthalingam, consultant epidemiologist for immunisation at the HPA, said: “The October figures show a continuing rise in the overall number of whooping cough cases. While there has been a decline in the number of infant cases it’s important to emphasise that it’s too early to see any impact from the pregnancy vaccination programme. Working with the Department of Health we are continuing to carefully monitor whooping cough activity to evaluate the success of the programme.

“We strongly recommend all pregnant women take up the offer of vaccination. Parents should also ensure their children are vaccinated against whooping cough on time, even babies of women who have had the vaccine in pregnancy – this is to continue their baby’s protection through childhood.

“Parents should also be alert to the signs and symptoms of whooping cough – which include severe coughing fits accompanied by the characteristic ‘whoop’ sound in young children but as a prolonged cough in older children or adults. It is also advisable to keep babies away from older siblings or adults who have the infection.”

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