Hundreds of thousands of pregnant women across the UK are to be offered a whooping cough vaccine to protect babies from an escalating outbreak of the disease. Very young babies are at the greatest risk of serious complications. Ten have died in the UK this year. The injection, available from Monday, should boost a mother’s defences, which are then passed onto the baby.

Health officials say there are no safety concerns about the vaccine. There are surges in whooping cough cases every three to four years and the latest outbreak started at the end of 2011. It is already the worst for more than a decade.

Dr Mary Ramsay, the head of immunisation at the Health Protection Agency (HPA), welcomed the measure. “We have been very concerned about the continuing increase in whooping cough cases and related deaths… It’s also important we continue to remind all parents to ensure their children are vaccinated against whooping cough to continue their protection through childhood. Parents should also be alert to the signs and symptoms – which include severe coughing fits accompanied by the characteristic ‘whoop’ sound in young children but as a prolonged cough in older children or adults. It is also advisable to keep their babies away from older siblings or adults who have the infection.”

Other groups including the Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health have backed the scheme.

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