Urgent call as 9 babies die and cases of ‘100-day cough’ soar – in worst whooping cough outbreak since 90s

HEALTH chiefs are pleading with parents to get the whooping cough vaccine as cases hit the highest level since the 90s.

There were 2,591 new cases in May – the most of any month in the past 30 years.

GettyThe main symptom of pertussis is a long-lasting cough (stock image)[/caption]

Pregnant women and infants can get a free NHS jab to protect against the infection.

Nine babies have died since England’s outbreak began in November.

May’s infection surge takes the 2024 total of 7,599 to nine times higher than the 858 in 2023.

Dr Mary Ramsay, vaccines director at the UK Health Security Agency, said: “Vaccination is the best defence against whooping cough and it is vital that pregnant women and young infants receive their vaccines at the right time. 

“With cases continuing to rise and sadly nine infant deaths since the outbreak began last November, ensuring women are vaccinated appropriately in pregnancy has never been more important. 

“Our thoughts and condolences are with those families who have so tragically lost their baby.

Whooping cough is a fast-spreading bacterial infection called pertussis.

It begins like a cold but the cough may then last for weeks and get worse as the infection spreads into the breathing tubes and lungs.

Most cases are in older people but babies are the most at risk of severe illness or death.

Vaccines are effective but immunisation rates have been falling for years.

Uptake among mums-to-be, babies and young children have dropped from 75 per cent in December 2017 to just 59 per cent in March this year.

Yearly coverage has dropped continuously for at least the past three years.

Vaccination has never been more important

Dr Mary RamsayUK Health Security Agency

Pregnant women can get the jab between week 20 and 32 of their pregnancy and babies are given it at eight, 12 and 16 weeks old.

NHS England’s chief midwife Kate Brintworth said: “The rise in whooping cough cases over the past six months is of real concern.

“I urge pregnant women to get vaccinated to help protect their babies.”


By Sam Blanchard, Health Correspondent

WHOOPING cough outbreaks come and go on what the UK Health Security reckons is a three to five year cycle, with this one probably worsened by a bounceback after the Covid lockdowns.

The recent spate of deaths is of much greater concern.

Most children and adults make a full recovery but for a tiny number of patients – mostly babies – it turns very serious and even fatal.

The UKHSA says the risk of this is 92 per cent lower if the baby’s mum got her jab during pregnancy, and more than eight out of 10 deaths are of infants born to unvaccinated mums.

But rates of vaccination in England have tumbled in the 2010s and 2020s so that fewer than two in three eligible mums and children are now protected.

Nine babies have died of the bug since November – less than 0.2 per cent of infections but an unimaginable horror for their families.

The UKHSA will not say how many victims were vaccinated but, statistically, it’s likely most could have been saved with a free jab.

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