Whooping Cough Outbreak in England: Calls to Boost Vaccination as 5 Babies Die

A whooping cough outbreak in England has resulted in the deaths of five babies under three months old, with a 419% month-on-month increase in cases, highlighting the importance of maintaining high vaccination rates, particularly among pregnant women and young infants, to prevent the spread of infectious diseases." This description focuses on the primary topic of the whooping cough outbreak, the main entities involved (babies, pregnant women, and young infants), the context of England, and the significant consequences of the outbreak (deaths and increased cases). It also provides objective and relevant details that will help an AI generate an accurate visual representation of the article's content, such as the age range of the affected babies and the importance of vaccination.

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Trim Correspondents
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Whooping Cough Outbreak in England: Calls to Boost Vaccination as 5 Babies Die

Whooping Cough Outbreak in England: Calls to Boost Vaccination as 5 Babies Die

In a tragic turn of events, five babies under three months old have died from whooping cough in England in 2024, marking the first deaths from the disease since 2019. The outbreak has seen a staggering 419% month-on-month increase in cases, with 1,319 confirmed in March alone compared to 900 in February. So far this year, nearly 2,800 cases have been reported across the country.

Why this matters: The resurgence of whooping cough in England highlights the importance of maintaining high vaccination rates to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, particularly among vulnerable populations like young infants. If left unchecked, outbreaks like this can have devastating consequences, including increased morbidity and mortality rates, as well as a significant burden on the healthcare system.

The highest rates of whooping cough remain in babies under three months old, who are most vulnerable to the serious effects of the disease. Half of all cases have been in children under 15 years old. London has been particularly hard hit, with vaccination rates as low as 36.8% in some areas.

Experts are sounding the alarm about the urgent need to increase vaccination rates, particularly among pregnant women, to prevent further deaths. Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, head of the UK's vaccine committee, warned, "The troubling thing is that if we continue to have high rates of spread and low rates of vaccination, there will be more babies severely affected, and sadly there will be more deaths."

Vaccination rates among pregnant women have fallen sharply in recent years, dropping from a peak of about 75% to under 60% today. "Very worryingly, those [vaccination rates] have fallen from a peak of about 75% of women being vaccinated during pregnancy to under 60% today, and that's what puts these very young infants at particular risk," Professor Pollard emphasized.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) attributes the rise in cases to a combination of factors, including the cyclical nature of the disease, which peaks every three to five years, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on population immunity. The last cyclical increase occurred in 2016.

Updated estimates show that the whooping cough vaccine is highly effective in pregnancy, providing 92% protection against infant death. However, timely vaccination in pregnancy and infancy is crucial to protect vulnerable young babies from serious disease. "Vaccination remains the best defence against whooping cough, and it is vital that pregnant women and young infants receive their vaccines at the right time," said Dr. Gayatri Amirthalingam, UKHSA consultant epidemiologist.

Professor Sir Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, echoed the call for families to get vaccinated: "With cases of whooping cough continuing to rise sharply across the country and today's figures sadly showing five infant deaths, it is vital that families come forward to get the protection they need."

The whooping cough vaccine is routinely given to babies at 8, 12, and 16 weeks as part of the 6-in-1 vaccine. Pregnant women are also offered the vaccine between 20 and 32 weeks of pregnancy to pass protection to their baby in the womb. However, uptake has been declining, with about 1 in 12 infants not receiving the 6-in-1 jab by their first birthday.

As England faces this troubling resurgence of whooping cough, health officials are urging pregnant women and families with young children to ensure they are up to date on their vaccinations. With timely action and increased vaccine uptake, they hope to stem the spread of this potentially deadly disease and prevent further tragic infant deaths.

Key Takeaways

  • 5 babies under 3 months old died from whooping cough in England in 2024.
  • 419% month-on-month increase in whooping cough cases, with 1,319 reported in March.
  • Vaccination rates among pregnant women have fallen from 75% to under 60%.
  • Whooping cough vaccine is 92% effective in preventing infant death when given during pregnancy.
  • Health officials urge pregnant women and families to get vaccinated to prevent further deaths.