PREGNANT women are being targeted for the whooping cough vaccine after the deaths of two babies.
Incidents of the deadly illness doubled within the last year, new figures show. The HSE said there were 458 cases in 2012 compared to 229 in 2011.
The statistics released to the Herald show that in a worrying development the illness claimed two lives last year and 60 cases were detected in the past two months alone.
Babies are particularly at risk and all children aged two, four and six months should receive the vaccine, the HSE said.
Mums-to-be who have not been vaccinated in the past 10 years are also being urged to get the vaccination immediately.
New mothers and pregnant women are being advised to avoid people with a cough until their child is four-months-old. Incidents of the cyclical disease peak every three to four years, according to Brenda Corcoran, consultant in Public Health Medicine with the HSE National Immunisation Office.
Infants less than six months of age have been most affected by this serious disease. Transmission occurs by droplet infection by sneezing or coughing.
In response to this outbreak, the National Immunisation Advisory Commission issued new recommendations for whooping cough, or pertussis, vaccination of pregnant women.
"Pregnant women who have not received a perussis-containing vaccine within the previous 10 years should now be offered Tdap (Boostrix) vaccine between 28-21 weeks gestation," the Commission identified.
"The timing of the vaccination has been changed to enable protection of the young infant via the maximum transfer of maternal antibodies and is in line with recent recommendations from the US and the UK."
Adolescents and adults are a significant source of transmission to unvaccinated young infants and cases are most infectious in the first three weeks.
The Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) is urging parents to vaccinate babies as early as possible. Children aged two, four and six months should receive immunisation at four and five years of age.