A large public audience joined St George's staff and students on 28 June for the latest lecture in our Spotlight on Science series, 'Vaccines for babies before birth'.
Spotlight on Science lectures are free and open to the public. School students, health professionals and anyone with an interest in medical research are all very welcome to attend.
Dr Chrissie Jones, Senior Lecturer and Consultant in Paediatric Infectious Diseases, introduced the issues facing practitioners and mothers by looking at the vaccines currently recommended for pregnant women in the UK.
The discussion focussed on the most recently recommended vaccine against pertussis (whooping cough). She said, “The reasons to have vaccines before birth include the high rates of severe disease in early life.
"Vaccinations can also protect mother, fetus and new born infants. The vaccines that are given in pregnancy are tetanus, influenza and pertussis.”
A mother spoke about her own family’s experience of dealing with the death of one of her twins from whooping cough. She gave a moving account of how a lack of information regarding the whooping cough vaccine resulted in not receiving the vaccination.
Her daughter showed symptoms of whooping cough at three days, which progressively worsened and resulted in the death of her daughter just a month after giving birth.
They were joined by Dr Gayatri Amirthalingam, Consultant Epidemiologist for Public Health England, and Dr Katherine Donegan from the Government's Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency.
Dr Amirthalingam said that whooping cough is a highly contagious bacterial infection which is passed from person to person by coughing and sneezing. Whooping cough can affect people at any age however babies and young children are at the highest risk of severe disease.
"Our childhood vaccination programme has been very successful in reducing the number of cases and deaths from whooping cough. All babies in the UK are offered three doses of the whooping cough vaccine as part of a 'five in one' vaccine at two, three and four months," she said.
"Rates of whooping cough in England remain high with the highest risk of complications occurring in young babies under three months of age. The whooping cough vaccination programme for pregnant women is highly effective in preventing disease in young babies.
"However, efforts to focus on improving uptake of the vaccine for pregnant women are needed," she said.