Whooping cough vaccination in pregnancy may be associated with placental infectionPregnant women are now routinely offered the whooping cough vaccine in the latter stages of pregnancy to try to prevent their baby from contracting whooping cough in the first few weeks of life, a time when the disease can be fatal. However this advice was given without any good evidence that the vaccine was safe when given to pregnant women, or that it actually did prevent whooping cough in the new born.
Recent research suggests that the vaccine is effective at preventing whooping cough in new born babies, but the question about safety remained.
New research suggests a significant 19% increase in the risk of chorioamnionitis an infection of the placenta and fluid surrounding the baby in the womb. Chorioamnionitis affects 1–4% of all births and so a 19% increase is of importance. The infection causes a fever in the mother and pain and tenderness over the womb. Chorioamnionitis results in an increase in caesarian sections, abscesses and postpartum haemorrhage. If the baby is affected, then brain damage, death or long-term developmental problems can all occur.
Reassuringly, the research found no increase in premature delivery, small for dates babies or high maternal blood pressure.
Many pregnant women are not aware that the whooping cough vaccine offered to them in pregnancy is not a single vaccine against only whooping cough, but is a 4-in-1 vaccine against, diphtheria, tetanus, polio and whooping cough.
Evidence that this vaccine may cause a potentially serious and life-threatening infection of the womb sac needs to be urgently investigated. Pregnant women should be told of the risk of this complication when being offered the vaccine.