Between 2011-2017, pertussis notifications in Ireland were most commonly notified in infants and young children. The age specific incidence rate among the 0-5 month age group peaked in 2012 (ASIR 395/100,000) with smaller peaks in 2016 (235/100,000) and 2017 (225/100,000) Between 2012-2017, of all infant cases, 67% were hospitalised and several infant deaths due to pertussis were notified. None of the mothers of these fatal cases were vaccinated during pregnancy.
Vaccination of pregnant women has been shown to be safe and effective in preventing pertussis in infants. Evidence from data published in England1and Spain2 indicates that protection against pertussis is as high as 90% or more in infants whose mothers were vaccinated in pregnancy.
Antenatal care in Ireland is delivered in three ways: either private care through a maternity unity, free public care through a maternity unit or as free combined care between maternity units and general practitioners (GP). Since 2012, pertussis vaccination in pregnancy has been recommended in Ireland and is available free of charge to maternity units and general practitioners.
However, though the vaccine itself is free, all patients still incur a fee for administration. There is also no clarity or definition regarding where the vaccine should be administered, whether by a GP or in the maternity units. This is thought to contribute to the very low vaccine uptake seen. An audit of maternity units conducted in 2013 showed an uptake rate of 6.2% amongst pregnant women in Ireland. This is far lower than the uptake rate in the UK (73%) where pertussis vaccine is available to pregnant women free of charge.
The lack of a defined pathway for administration and full funding of pertussis vaccination in pregnancy represents a key barrier to increasing uptake. Clarifying a pathway of vaccine delivery and reimbursement should be a priority issue for the Irish health service to ensure that vulnerable infants are protected. Pertussis is a vaccine preventable disease and, as such, every effort should be made to prevent further infant morbidity and mortality.
1 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25037990
Specialist Registrar in Public Health Medicine
Department of Public Health, HSE East, Dublin (Ireland)