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This article is part of a series of research impact stories related to our REF 2014 submission.

Dr Kirsty Le Doare is researching how maternal vaccines can prevent mothers and infants from developing deadly diseases including whooping cough, sepsis, meningitis and pneumonia.

In the UK, pregnant women are already offered vaccinations against influenza and whooping cough. The whooping cough vaccine was introduced in 2012 following an epidemic of the disease and reduced infections in infants by 91%.

Group B streptococcus (GBS) is a leading cause of infection in babies worldwide, causing 90,000 infant deaths every year

‘Vaccinating during pregnancy is a two-for-one,’ says Paediatric Infection and Immunology Consultant Dr Kirsty Le Doare. ‘By vaccinating the mother, you can protect her against diseases that are particularly severe when you’re pregnant. You also protect the baby until they are old enough to have their own vaccinations.’

Le Doare and her team, who are funded by UK Research and Innovation, are now working on new maternal vaccines to tackle diseases including Group B streptococcus (GBS). GBS is a bacterium that causes life-threatening infections including blood poisoning (sepsis), pneumonia and meningitis in babies.

Currently, some pregnant women are screened for GBS and, if they test positive, they are given antibiotics during birth. However, antibiotics given during birth only protect a baby for the first few days of life, and the risk to infants from GBS continues for months after birth.

What’s more, screening offers no protection for babies who are born before screening is completed.  A GBS vaccination would remove the need for screening and antibiotics, protect premature babies, and give infants continued protection against GBS during the first months of life.  

‘There are several GBS vaccines that have completed early clinical trials. But GBS is quite rare, so huge trial sizes are needed to provide enough data for licensing,’ Le Doare explains. ‘We are trying to speed up the licensing process by pinpointing exactly how much immunity needs to pass from mother to baby for the vaccine to be effective. We are all hoping that one of the GBS vaccines will be licenced and available for the women who need it by 2025.’


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