Expert Warns: Rising UK Vaccination Rates Needed to Prevent More Infant Deaths from Whooping Cough

A prominent expert has sounded the alarm, cautioning that without an increase in vaccination rates, more infants in the UK will succumb to whooping cough. Prof Sir Andrew Pollard, a respected paediatrician and chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, emphasized the concerning trend of low vaccine uptake among pregnant women, leaving the most vulnerable, particularly newborns, at significant risk.

Highlighting the critical role of vaccination in curbing the spread of the disease, Sir Andrew stressed the importance of higher vaccination rates, especially among pregnant women. He expressed dismay at the decline in vaccination rates among this group, which has dropped from a peak of 75% to below 60%, heightening the vulnerability of newborns.

Sir Andrew underscored the link between decreasing vaccination rates and the resurgence of whooping cough cases, likening it to the situation observed during measles outbreaks. He warned that unless there is a reversal in the trend of high transmission rates and low vaccination rates, more infants will suffer severe consequences, including fatalities.

Recent statistics from England reveal a worrying decline in vaccination coverage among pregnant women, with only 59.3% receiving the whooping cough vaccine between October and December 2023, marking a significant decrease compared to previous years. Particularly alarming are the low vaccination rates in London, standing at 36.8%.

Administering the vaccine during pregnancy serves to provide crucial immunity to newborns during their vulnerable early months until they are eligible for vaccination themselves. Despite a relatively high vaccination rate among children by their first birthday, at 91.8% in 2022-23, experts emphasize the necessity of further increasing this figure.

Tragically, recent data indicates a rise in whooping cough-related fatalities, with five infants in England dying between January and March, following diagnosis with the disease. The UK Health Security Agency reported over 2,700 cases of whooping cough in England in 2024, more than triple the number recorded in the previous year, underscoring the urgency of addressing the vaccination gap.

Dr. Gayatri Amirthalingam, a consultant epidemiologist for the UK Health Security Agency, emphasized the severity of whooping cough, particularly for young babies, extending condolences to families who have lost infants to this preventable disease.

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