Expectant mothers are being warned that cases of whooping cough are on the rise in Suffolk as well as the rest of England.

The warning comes after figures showed five babies in England died between January and the end of March after being diagnosed with whooping cough.

More than 2,700 whooping cough cases have been reported across England so far in 2024 - more than three times the number recorded in the whole of last year.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) figures, released on Thursday, show there were 2,793 cases reported to the end of March. That compares to 858 cases for the whole of 2023.

The last big increase in cases was seen in 2016.

East Anglian Daily Times:

Stuart Keeble, Director of Public Health for Suffolk, said: “Cases of whooping cough have increased across England and trends are indicating that Suffolk is no different.

“The best defence for whooping cough is the vaccination for pregnant people and children. In Suffolk, we offer the vaccination at a routine antenatal appointment from around 16 weeks of pregnancy.

“The whooping cough vaccine is highly effective in protecting both the mother and newborn and significantly reduces the risk of whooping cough in infants during their more vulnerable period before they can receive their own vaccinations.”

In Suffolk, where vaccination rates are above the national average, 67% of pregnant women in the county had the whooping cough jab between October and December 2023, compared to 59% across England.

But health professionals have raised concerns about the falling rates of vaccination.

Babies born to women vaccinated at least a week before birth had a 92% reduced risk of being ill with whooping cough in their first weeks of life.

The impact of the Covid lockdowns, lack of awareness, and in some cases problems accessing the vaccine have been blamed for low uptake.

East Anglian Daily Times:

Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, consultant paediatrician and chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, which advises the Government, said Covid lockdowns may have impacted on the rise in cases, particularly in older children and adults.

He said: "The troubling thing is that if we continue to have high rates of spread and low rates of vaccination, there will be more babies severely affected and sadly there will be more deaths."

Children are also vaccinated against the disease, with 94.6% uptake for the up to 12 month programme in Suffolk and 95% for 3-4 year old programme.

A new strategy launched by the East of England NHS Immunisation team is aiming to tackle the barriers to jabs.

It includes a new Be Well bus to help bring vaccination services to wider areas and linked-up working between maternity services and primary care.