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EU raises alarm at 10-fold increase in whooping cough cases

by Tunae

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The European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) has raised the alarm at the ten-fold increase in whooping cough (Pertussis) on the continent in the past year, renewing calls to step up vaccination as the best defence. 

The disease presents a high risk of severe outcomes and death for infants, while adults can suffer severe illness especially those with underlying health conditions.

There were nearly 60,000 cases reported in the EU/EEA over the last year (2023/2024) compared to around 6,000 in the 2022/21 period.

Pertussis is an endemic disease that surges every three to five years, even in countries with high vaccination coverage. However, while larger outbreaks can be linked to low vaccination rates or waning immunity in the population, this may be partly due to decreased natural boosting in the population during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As we tackle this pertussis epidemic, it’s essential to remember the lives at stake, especially our little ones,” said ECDC Director Andrea Ammon.

“Vaccines against pertussis have proven to be safe and effective […]. We have a responsibility, as parents or as public health professionals, to protect the most vulnerable group from the deadly impact of this disease”.

EU Health Commission Stella Kyriakides also sounded the alarm, calling for vigilance: “Vaccination is our key tool to help save lives and stop the disease from spreading further.”

Public health authorities are encouraged to strengthen vaccination programmes and achieve and sustain high vaccination coverage, including timely and full completion of primary immunisation series and subsequent booster doses, according to national recommendations.

Women in the second and third trimester of pregnancy are particularly encouraged to seek vaccination, given how vulnerable newborns are to the disease.

In addition, pertussis immunisation during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy is safe and highly effective in preventing disease and death amongst newborns who are still too young to be vaccinated.

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