Pertussis is a highly contagious bacterial disease, caused by Bordetella pertussis, that can spread rapidly from person-to-person through contact with airborne droplets. Young, unimmunised infants have the highest disease incidence with the greatest risk of severe disease requiring hospital treatment and of suffering a fatal outcome.

The recent increase in pertussis cases has been observed across all regions and age groups in England and case numbers are expected to continue to rise in 2024. Incidence remains highest in infants under 3 months (see HPR volume 18 issue 1: news (1 February 2024) - GOV.UK (

Vaccination in pregnancy provides passive immunity from maternal antibodies and is key to protecting young babies. Studies in England found maternal vaccination offers around 90% vaccine effectiveness against confirmed disease and 97% protection against death from pertussis in infants under 3 months of age.

The pertussis vaccination in pregnancy programme, introduced in 2012 after large increases in disease activity, helps bridge the immunity gap from birth until infants can be directly protected by primary vaccination scheduled at 8, 12 and 16 weeks of age.

Vaccine uptake levels in pregnant women, babies and young children have fallen in recent years across England. Maternal vaccine uptake fell from over 70% in September 2017 to around 58% in September 2023 (see Pertussis immunisation in pregnancy: vaccine coverage (England) - GOV.UK (

Pertussis vaccination is recommended in every pregnancy between 20 and 32 weeks, ideally after the 20-week scan, but can be given as early as 16 weeks for pragmatic reasons to ensure vaccination.

Health professionals have an important role in ensuring everyone, during pregnancy and in infancy, has the opportunity to be vaccinated.

Leaflets and posters can be ordered free of charge to help with any discussions you may have. Order here.

British Association of Perinatal Medicine (BAPM) is registered in England & Wales under charity number 1199712 at 5-11 Theobalds Road, London, WC1X 8SH.
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