Pregnant women will be offered whooping cough (pertussis) vaccinations to protect their babies, following a rise in deaths among infants, Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies has confirmed.
The temporary programme, which begins this week, aims to boost the short-term immunity passed on to babies by their mothers.
Newborn babies cannot be vaccinated until they are two months old, but the move to vaccinate mothers follows Health Protection Agency figures for England and Wales exposing a significant increase in whooping cough cases in infants.
In the first eight months of 2012, 302 cases of whooping cough were reported in infants under 12 weeks of age - more than double the 115 cases reported during the same period in 2011. There were nine deaths in this period, up from seven in the whole of 2011.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation reviewed the evidence and agreed the vaccine should be offered to the approximate 650,000 women a year who are between 28 and 38 weeks of pregnancy. It will be offered during routine antenatal appointments with a nurse, midwife or GP, even if women have been immunised previously