THE Public Health Agency (PHA) is urging women in the Coleraine borough who are 28 weeks pregnant or more to get the whooping cough (pertussis) vaccine, following a rise in the numbers of cases.
During 2012 there were 309 confirmed cases in Northern Ireland, compared with just 15 in 2011. Increases in levels of the illness are seen every three to four years, however, the numbers in 2012 are the highest for about twenty years.
At the end of September last year, the Health Minister announced that pregnant women would be offered the whooping cough vaccination to protect their newborn babies who are not usually vaccinated themselves until between two and four months.
The introduction of the vaccine programme in pregnant women will help to boost the short term immunity passed on by women to their babies while they are still in the womb.
Dr Richard Smithson, Consultant in Health Protection, PHA, said: “So far there has been a good response from pregnant women to getting vaccinated. Provisional figures from the first two months of the campaign show that around 60% of women who were due the vaccine had it.
We are very pleased with this response but would urge those women who are over 28 weeks pregnant and haven’t yet had the vaccine to get it as soon as possible.
“Whooping cough is a disease that can cause long bouts of coughing and choking, which can make it hard to breathe. It can be very serious for young children, and even fatal for babies under one year old.
“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. The vaccination programme will be coordinated through GPs who will contact eligible women.”