WHOOPING cough vaccinations are being introduced for pregnant women in Wales following a hike in the number of cases, officials have confirmed.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) revealed 154 cases of whooping cough were reported in the principality by the end of August - compared with 67 in all of last year.

Chief Medical Officer for Wales Dr Ruth Hussey said the vaccination will boost protection for newborn babies.

The condition - characterised by severe coughing then followed by a gasp or "whoop’’ - can affect people of all ages.

However, experts say newborn babies are "particularly at risk’’ because they are not usually vaccinated before they are two months old.

From October, pregnant women will be told about the vaccine during routine antenatal appointments and offered it at GP surgeries.

Even if women have previously been immunised, they will be encouraged to be vaccinated again to boost their immunity.

Dr Hussey said: "Whooping cough can be treated successfully with antibiotics and most people make a full recovery, but it is highly contagious.

"Newborn babies are affected most severely by whooping cough, and are most at risk of developing complications.

"Nine infants in England have died as a result of whooping cough this year.

"There have been no infant deaths associated with the illness so far this year in Wales, but we must not be complacent.

"It's vital babies are protected from the day they are born - that's why we are offering the vaccine to all pregnant women.’’ The decision to introduce the temporary programme was made after the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation reviewed the latest figures on whooping cough.

They agreed the vaccine should be offered to the 650,000 women a year across the UK who are between 28 and 38 weeks of pregnancy.

A Welsh Government spokeswoman said the scheme would be monitored by Public Health Wales and Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).