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Whooping cough cases skyrocketing, warns government

There were more than 500 cases of whooping cough in England this January compared with a total of almost 860  “for the whole of” last year, the government has said.  

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) last week (March 7) warned parents to ensure their children are vaccinated against pertussis – also known as whooping cough – after recording a “continued increase” in cases of the bacterial infection. 

New data from the agency found that there were “553 confirmed [cases] in England in January, compared with 858 cases for the whole of” 2023. 

It said that “cases of whooping cough rise cyclically every few years, with the last peak year [in] 2016 recording 5,949 cases”. 

Read more: Pharmacies to ‘supplement’ childhood vaccination drive but GPs preferred 

It added that the data shows there were 22 infants under three months old who were diagnosed with whooping cough in January – with this group “at greater risk of severe disease including death” as they are “too young to be fully vaccinated”. 

UKHSA added that it is “strongly encouraging expectant mothers to take up the maternal vaccine” that protects babies from birth. 

The increase in cases follows a “steady decline in uptake of the vaccine in pregnant women and in children”, it said. 

Pharmacies just “an option” 

UKHSA said that its calls for increased whooping cough vaccine uptake is “part of” its “new childhood immunisation campaign urging parents to check the vaccination status of their children”. 

The news comes after C+D reported earlier this month that government officials said pharmacies were just “an option” for commissioners participating in the vaccine drive.  

“For obvious reasons, we know that parents are more comfortable in the general practice, because that's the normal place they go to [for] their vaccines,” UKHSA’s head of immunisation Dr Mary Ramsay told C+D at the time. 

Read more: Pharmacy First could ‘make it even easier’ to deliver MMR jabs, says minister 

But she said that using pharmacies to offer children’s vaccines is “an option for those local areas”. 

“Particularly if they've got practices…under pressure [for] capacity, then obviously local pharmacies can be brought in to support that”, she added.  

Meanwhile in December, a new NHS England (NHSE) vaccination strategy set out plans to give community pharmacy “a greater role in seasonal vaccination” in the future. 

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