UK facing whooping cough horror as health experts warn case numbers rising and vaccinations falling

By Staff 7 Min Read

Whooping cough cases are soaring in England, with more cases recorded in February than 2023 as a whole, as fears mount over a drop in parents getting an important, life-saving vaccination

Cases of a Victorian illness are on the rise among children in the UK as vaccination rates plummet.

Whooping cough has already killed several babies in Europe and is likely to worsen as parents fail to get a simple jab, public health experts warn. The surge follows a drop in the number of mums-to-be from getting an antenatal vaccine which can protect babies against the deadly disease.

Typically associated with disease-ridden Victorian Britain and known as the “100-day cough”, whooping cough is a illness of the lungs which affects predominantly infants and young children, potentially resulting in pneumonia and brain damage. Now data shared by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) this week reveals cases in England almost doubled in February from the previous month.

According to the figures, there were 913 new cases of the disease in February – more than the 858 throughout 2023 overall and a huge surge from the 555 recorded the month prior. The UKHSA also said that 52 cases in January and February were in babies aged three months or under, who are most at risk of dying from the disease.

It comes as it emerged on Thursday how two people died in Greece after a cough spread through a holiday location. Greece’s National Public Health Organisation confirmed the illness had caused two fatalities, with 32 out of 54 cases of the illness recorded in children and teenagers.

The surge in whooping cough cases comes off the back of a drop in uptake of the vaccination which protects unbron babies. The antenatal jab reduced the number of infant whooping cough deaths by two-thirds last year, with 21 compared with 63 in the 12 years previously.

Greece’s Health Minister Eirini Agapidaki also backed calls for people to get vaccinated against the illness as the cases rise. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has meanwhile confirmed that almost all of the cases were detected in babies under the age of three months old.

According to UK doctors, the outbreak here is likely to become worse as data shows four infants died of the disease in the Netherlands in February and March. The Dutch National Institute for Public Health has said cases of the illness have reached between 200 and 300 a week in the country, the Financial Times reports.

Helen Bedford, professor of children’s health at University College London, cited concerns about the effect of the Covid vaccine on pregnant women and overstretched GP surgeries as being behind the falling uptake in antenatal whooping cough jabs. “My own assessment is that a lot of questions that were raised about the Covid vaccine have been transferred on to other vaccines”, she said. “There was so much discussion during the pandemic and some of that has made people much more questioning.”

Dr Mary Ramsay, Director of Public Health Programmes at UKHSA, said: “Our surveillance indicates an increase in whooping cough cases in England during February. Whooping cough can affect people of all ages but for very young infants, it can be particularly serious. Getting the whooping cough vaccine in pregnancy is a highly effective way to protect your baby in the first few months following birth. I encourage all pregnant women to get vaccinated, ideally between 20 and 32 weeks, but you should still get the vaccine if you are further along in your pregnancy.

“Parents can also help protect their children by ensuring they receive their whooping cough vaccine when it is due as part of the routine NHS Childhood vaccination Programme, or by catching up on any vaccines they have missed as soon as possible. If you are unsure, please check your child’s red book or get in touch with your GP surgery.”

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