HEALTH chiefs are urging St Helens parents to ensure their children are vaccinated on time amid a UK-wide whooping cough outbreak.
In the first six months of this year there were 159 confirmed cases of the disease across the North West - nearly four times as many as in the last year in which there was a national outbreak.
Although only one of the laboratory-confirmed cases was in St Helens, health bosses say they are concerned that some local youngsters are being vaccinated too late.
During 2011/12 more than 92 per cent of St Helens children aged 12 months had been vaccinated against the disease - but, by the age of two, this rose to 95.5 per cent.
To get full immunity, children should be vaccinated when they are two, three and four months old and given a pre-school booster at three years and four months.
It is vital that the jabs - part of a wider immunisation programme which includes MMR - are given at the appropriate time.
Director of Public Health for St Helens, Liz Gaulton, said: “Babies and infants have limited immunity to infection and whooping cough can make them very ill. It is essential that children are immunised as soon as they reach the appropriate age for the vaccine.
“All too often we’ve seen vaccinations delayed and babies remain vulnerable in that period. My message to parents is that they should make the vaccination of their children, at the right time, a priority.
“Whooping cough is an unpleasant illness that can last for weeks and, in extreme cases, it can result in death. The best way to avoid this is to stick rigidly to vaccination schedules.”
Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, affects all ages, including very young babies - who have the highest risk of severe complications.
Symptoms include prolonged coughing in older childrena dn adults and coughing fits with the characteristic “whoop” sound in young children.
Dr Karen Beeby, GP Lead at the St Helens Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “Vaccination is the most effective way to protect people from this infection. Parents should ensure their children are up to date with their vaccinations so they are protected at the earliest opportunity.”