A whooping cough vaccination programme for expectant mothers is to be extended for the next five years.
Northern Ireland Health Minister Edwin Poots said the immunisation, offered to pregnant women between 28 weeks and 38 weeks, provided the best protection for newborn babies.
“In Northern Ireland we achieve very high uptake rates for the routine vaccination of babies at two, three and four months, but newborn babies are at risk from whooping cough until they are old enough to be vaccinated for themselves,” said Mr Poots.
The vaccination was first introduced in September 2012 following a national whooping cough (pertussis) outbreak. It aims to boost the short-term immunity passed on by women to their babies while they are still in the womb.
Dr Richard Smithson, consultant in health protection at the Public Health Agency, claimed it had been “highly effective” in protecting infants.
He said: “Babies born to women vaccinated at least a week before delivery generally had a 91% reduced risk of becoming ill with whooping cough in their first weeks of life, compared with babies whose mothers had not been vaccinated.”
Whooping cough is a disease that causes breathing difficulties from long bouts of coughing and choking. It can be very serious for young children, and potentially fatal for those aged under one-year-old.
The national Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) had advised the programme should continue for a further five years.