The Public Health Agency (PHA) has announced that pregnant women can now avail of the whooping cough (pertussis) vaccination from week 16 of their pregnancy.
The change comes following advice from the UK Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), based on a study which showed that protection for the baby from vaccination is likely to be better if the mum is immunised earlier in pregnancy.
The vaccine was previously aimed at women in weeks 28 to 32 of pregnancy.
Whooping cough is a disease that can cause long bouts of coughing and choking, which can make it hard to breathe. It can be very serious for young children, and even fatal for babies under one year old.
Four years ago, in response to a national whooping cough outbreak, pregnant women were offered the whooping cough vaccination for the first time as part of a programme to help protect their newborn babies.
Recently there has been an increase in the number of cases of whooping cough in Northern Ireland, with 79 confirmed in 2015, compared with just 33 in 2014. The total in 2013 was 54, but there aren’t as many as in 2012 which saw 314 cases.
Dr Lucy Jessop, Consultant in Health Protection at the PHA, said: “Offering the whooping cough vaccine to all pregnant women who have reached week 16 or above provides the best protection for those first few months of their baby’s life. I would therefore urge all eligible women to take up the offer of this vaccine and help protect their baby.”