Starting next year, all pregnant women in the country, including non-citizens, will receive the Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis) vaccine for free said Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa.

She said this new initiative involving an annual allocation of RM25 million for an estimated 500,000 pregnant women yearly, aims to reduce the risk of pertussis (whooping cough) infection especially among babies who are below five months.

She said in a statement today that the implementation will begin after the procurement of the Tdap vaccine supply is completed and its supply is available at the Ministry of Health's (MoH) facilities nationwide.

"Once implemented, all pregnant women, including non-citizens, will be given a dose of the Tdap vaccine for free in the second or third trimester of pregnancy (between the 13th to 36th week of pregnancy) at MoH premier health facilities around the country," she said.

According to Dr Zaliha, giving the Tdap vaccine to pregnant women will give protection to the foetus until the baby is born, and until they can complete three primary doses of the pertussis vaccine at the age of five months.

She also said babies below five months form the group with the highest risk of contracting pertussis and experiencing complications arising from diseases such as pneumonia, encephalopathy, and leading even to death.

Dr Zaliha added that this happens because the antibodies in a baby's body will only reach an optimal level of protection when the baby has received three doses of the pertussis vaccine given under the National Immunisation Programme at the age of five months.

Until Aug 23 (this year), she said a total of 343 cases of pertussis, with 24 deaths, were recorded in the country.

From these 343 cases, 172 cases or 50.4 per cent were infants under the age of five months, while of the 24 deaths recorded, 19 were infants under the age of five months.

Source: BERNAMA News Agency