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Two thirds of public unaware of life-saving whooping cough vaccine for pregnant women

Published: 15 February 2024

Following the recent warning from health experts that whooping cough is circulating more widely this year, a survey conducted by Public Health Wales revealed the majority of respondents were unaware that pregnant women are eligible to get vaccinated from the disease. 

The latest results from Public Health Wales’ Time to Talk Public Health panel survey shows that 65 per cent of the public are unaware that pregnant women are eligible for vaccination against pertussis (whooping cough), a bacterial infection of the lungs and breathing tubes, that can cause serious complications in the very young. Rates of six in one vaccination which offers protection from whooping cough for children at eight, 12 and 16 weeks old in Wales remain high, but in the last year rates of vaccination in pregnancy have fallen from over 80 per cent to 70 per cent. Most pregnant women in Wales still receive their vaccination for whooping cough, but Public Health Wales is concerned that not as many women are being vaccinated at a time when rates of the disease are increasing. 

Whooping cough spreads easily and can sometimes cause serious health problems. It’s important for babies and children to be vaccinated against whooping cough, but pregnant women can help protect their babies by getting vaccinated themselves – ideally from 16 weeks up to 32 weeks of pregnancy, although vaccines can be administered up until labour. Vaccinating pregnant women is highly effective in protecting a newborn baby from developing whooping cough in the first weeks of their life as immunity will pass to the baby through the placenta, providing passive protection before they are old enough to be vaccinated themselves at eight weeks old. 

Time to Talk Public Health results also highlighted an awareness of the importance of vaccines in pregnancy in Wales with 67 per cent of respondents agreeing that vaccinating pregnant women was either very important (50 per cent) or somewhat important (17 per cent). 

Survey respondents were also asked if they were aware that pregnant woman can receive vaccines for flu and Covid-19. Positively, 56 per cent of respondents said they were aware that pregnant women are eligible for flu vaccination, and 54 per cent for Covid-19 vaccination. Both vaccines are safe and protect mother and baby from infection, and further information can be found on the Public Health Wales website

Dr Chris Johnson, Consultant Epidemiologist and Head of the Vaccine Preventable Disease Programme, said: “Babies under six months old are most at risk from whooping cough, a highly contagious disease that is spread by breathing in small droplets in the air from other people’s coughs and sneezes. It can be very serious and lead to pneumonia, permanent brain damage, or in some cases death. 

“Vaccination in pregnancy protects a baby in the first few weeks of their life, before they receive their first routine immunisation at eight weeks old. We urge all pregnant women and parents of babies and young children to ensure they take up their offer of vaccination when given, or to ask their GP, midwife or health visitor if they believe they may not have had it.” 

1,119 panel members responded to The Time to Talk Public Health survey conducted in December 2023, which asked residents of Wales (16+ years) their views on a range of health-related subjects including: flu and Covid-19 vaccines, NHS 111 Wales Service, and Primary Care Clusters. Unless stated otherwise, data are weighted to reflect national population demographics by age, sex and deprivation. 

If you are interested in joining the Time to Talk Public Health conversation, you can find more information and sign up here

More information about vaccinations in pregnancy can be found here.