Pertussis (Whooping Cough) Vaccine

Pertussis vaccines protect babies, children and adults from a respiratory disease called whooping cough. Whooping cough causes uncontrollable, violent coughing fits. In babies, it can cause severe complications. All infants, children and adults should get a vaccine to protect against whooping cough.

What is a pertussis vaccine?

Pertussis vaccines protect people from a respiratory disease called whooping cough. Bacteria called Bordetella pertussis cause whooping cough. Whooping cough leads to coughing fits followed by a high-pitch “whoop,” fever and apnea (stops and starts in breathing).

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Why is the whooping cough vaccine important?

The vaccine protects people, especially babies, from catching pertussis. Whooping cough can be very dangerous for infants. Babies with whooping cough may develop pneumonia (lung infection), uncontrollable shaking or even brain damage.

Because whooping cough starts with mild, cold-like symptoms, many people don’t know they have the infection right away. Without vaccination, people may easily spread whooping cough to others during early infection stages.

What are the types of whooping cough vaccines?

There are two types of whooping cough vaccines. Both vaccines protect people from multiple diseases:

  • DTaP vaccines (Daptacel®, Quadracel® and Vaxelis®) protect children under age 7 from diphtheria (bacterial infection of your nose and mouth), tetanus (bacterial infection of your central nervous system) and pertussis.
  • Tdap vaccines (Adacel® and Boostrix®) are “booster” shots to protect preteens, teens and adults from tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis.
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Who should get a pertussis vaccine?

Experts recommend that everyone get the pertussis, tetanus and diphtheria vaccine. Babies and young children get the DTaP vaccine in a series of five shots. They get these shots at:

  • 2 months.
  • 4 months.
  • 6 months.
  • Between 15 to 18 months.
  • Between 4 and 6 years.

Preteens and teens can get the Tdap vaccine between ages 11 and 12. After the first Tdap vaccine, teens and adults should get another one every 10 years.

Tdap vaccinations are extremely important for pregnant women. Getting the Tdap vaccine in your third trimester helps protect your baby from getting whooping cough in the first few months of life. Anyone who will be around a new baby should be current on their pertussis vaccination.

What happens if I miss a dose of the whooping cough vaccine?

If your child misses one of the five doses of the whooping cough vaccine, speak with your healthcare provider. Your child may be able to get the vaccine at their next healthcare appointment.

Teenagers who miss the Tdap booster should get it at their next visit with a healthcare provider. Likewise, adults who have never gotten the pertussis vaccine or have missed a dose should get the Tdap shot at their next healthcare provider appointment.

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Who should not get a pertussis vaccine?

Some people may need to wait to get vaccines. If you or your child has a mild illness, such as a cold, you still may be able to get the vaccine. If you have a more severe illness, you may need to wait until you recover.

If you are not a good candidate for a pertussis vaccine, your healthcare provider will give you instructions and information about vaccination options. In general, people should talk to their healthcare provider if they have:

  • Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare disorder where your immune system attacks your nerves.
  • History of serious allergic reactions to pertussis vaccines.
  • History of severe pain, fever above 105 degrees Fahrenheit or swelling after a pertussis vaccine.
  • Seizures or other nervous system diseases.
  • Severe allergies to any vaccine ingredients.

What are the possible side effects of the pertussis vaccine?

Most people don’t have any severe symptoms after pertussis vaccination. Mild side effects usually go away on their own. You or your child may feel slightly unwell for a day or so, with:

How effective is the whooping cough vaccine?

The whooping cough vaccine is highly effective when people get all the recommended doses. In children, DTaP protects:

  • About 98 out of 100 children for at least a year after the fifth shot.
  • About 7 out of 10 children for five years after the fifth shot.

In adults, Tdap protects:

  • About 7 in 10 people for the first year after the shot.
  • About 4 in 10 people for four years after the shot.

When pregnant women get Tdap, the vaccine protects:

  • More than 3 out of 4 babies from getting whooping cough in the first 2 months of life.
  • About 9 out of 10 babies from getting severe whooping cough infections that require hospitalization.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Pertussis vaccines protect children, teens and adults from whooping cough. Whooping cough is a respiratory disease that causes uncontrollable coughing fits followed by a “whoop” sound. In babies, whooping cough can lead to severe complications. All children, adults and pregnant women should get the whooping cough vaccine. Young children receive the vaccine as a series of five shots before age 7. Starting around age 11 to 12, teens and adults receive a booster pertussis vaccine every 10 years.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/25/2021.

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