Whooping Cough Vaccines are Safe but Side Effects Can Occur
Whooping cough vaccines are safe, but side effects can occur. CDC continually monitors the safety of all vaccines, which are held to the highest standards of safety. Learn more about how new vaccines get licensed and how their safety is monitored [2 pages].
The whooping cough vaccine is very safe for pregnant women and their babies. Doctors and midwives who specialize in caring for pregnant women agree that the whooping cough vaccine is important to get during the third trimester of each pregnancy. Getting the vaccine during your pregnancy will not put you at increased risk for pregnancy complications.
CDC and a panel of experts who make vaccine recommendations (Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices) have studied the whooping cough vaccine recommended for pregnant women (called Tdap vaccine), and they have concluded that it is very safe for pregnant women and their babies. These experts carefully reviewed the available safety data before recommending that the vaccine be given during every pregnancy. See the publications page for a list of published safety studies.
- Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System
The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), a national vaccine safety surveillance program, receives information from the public about possible side effects from various vaccines. CDC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) monitor VAERS to look for new safety concerns or trends (also called safety signals) after Tdap vaccination. Published studies that include VAERS data support the safe use of Tdap vaccine during pregnancy. To date, no safety signals have been found among pregnant women or their babies after Tdap vaccination.
- Manufacturer Pregnancy Registries
Both manufacturers of Tdap vaccine (Sanofi Pasteur for Adacel® and GlaxoSmithKline for Boostrix®) created pregnancy registries to collect information from pregnant women who were vaccinated with Tdap. The manufacturers have not reported any safety signals to FDA.
- Safety History for Tetanus and Diphtheria Vaccines
Tdap vaccine combines protection against tetanus and diphtheria, in addition to whooping cough. Vaccines that protect against tetanus and diphtheria are commonly associated with local reactions, such as redness, swelling, pain, and tenderness where the shot is given. Both tetanus and diphtheria toxoids (Td) and tetanus toxoid (TT) vaccines have been used in pregnant women worldwide since the 1960s to prevent tetanus among newborns, so their safety is well understood. Getting Td or TT vaccines during pregnancy is very safe for you and your baby.
Most side effects are mild, meaning they do not affect daily activities. They also get better on their own in a few days. The most common side effects from the Tdap vaccine include redness, swelling, pain, and tenderness where the shot is given, body-ache, fatigue, or fever. In adults who have received 2 doses of the Tdap vaccine, the most commonly reported side effect was pain where the shot was given.
Severe side effects are extremely rare, especially in adults.
The Tdap vaccine combines protection against tetanus and diphtheria, in addition to whooping cough. Studies have been done on tetanus vaccines that do not contain protection against pertussis. These studies found that adults who receive 2 tetanus shots in a short time period (within 2 years) were no more likely than adults getting their first Tdap vaccine to have severe side effects. CDC and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists consider the benefits of Tdap vaccination in multiple pregnancies to outweigh theoretical (potential) risks.
Studies looked at the safety of giving multiple Tdap doses because there is a theoretical risk for severe local reactions (called hypersensitivity) if the tetanus component of the vaccine is given too often. An example of severe hypersensitivity would be the arm swelling from the shoulder to the elbow within 4 to 12 hours of the shot being given (the swelling goes away within 4 to 7 days). Experts believe the risk for this type of severe side effect has likely been reduced since these vaccines are now made with lower doses of the tetanus component than tetanus vaccines in the past.
The whooping cough vaccine for children (2 months through 6 years) is called DTaP vaccine. The DTaP vaccine combines protection against diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough. Currently, there are 3 licensed formulations of the DTaP vaccine. Many different clinical trials were conducted on each vaccine to make sure of its safety. Results from clinical trials showed that these vaccines are very safe for infants and children. The DTaP vaccine can safely be given at the same time as other vaccines.
The most common side effects from the DTaP vaccine include:
- Fever (up to about 1 out of 4 children)
- Redness or swelling where the shot was given (up to about 1 out of 4 children)
- Soreness or tenderness where the shot was given (up to about 1 out of 4 children)
These problems occur more often after the 4th and 5th doses of the DTaP series than after earlier doses. Sometimes the 4th or 5th dose of DTaP vaccine is followed by swelling of the entire arm or leg in which the shot was given (up to about 1 out of 30 children). If swelling occurs, it generally lasts for 1 to 7 days after the shot is given.
Other mild problems include:
- Fussiness (up to about 1 out of 3 children)
- Tiredness or poor appetite (up to about 1 out of 10 children)
- Vomiting (up to about 1 out of 50 children)
These problems generally occur 1 to 3 days after the shot is given.
Severe side effects are extremely rare. Learn more about side effects of the DTaP vaccine.
Whooping cough vaccines cannot give you whooping cough since they do not contain any live bacteria. The whooping cough vaccines we use today for children and adults in the United States contain purified, inactivated parts of the bacterium that causes whooping cough (Bordetella pertussis).
Getting the whooping cough vaccine while breastfeeding is very safe for you and your baby. The whooping cough vaccine can and should be given to you if you plan to breastfeed or are currently breastfeeding. There are, however, some vaccines that are not recommended for you to get while breastfeeding.
Learn more about breastfeeding.
You can get the whooping cough and flu vaccine at the same time during your pregnancy. You can also get them at different visits. If you are pregnant during flu season, you should get the flu vaccine as early as possible. You do not have to wait until later in your pregnancy for the flu shot, like is recommended for the whooping cough vaccine.
It does not matter when you got your last tetanus shot (Td or Tdap vaccine) — you still need the Tdap vaccine during each pregnancy.
None of the whooping cough vaccines (Tdap and DTaP) currently used in the United States contain thimerosal.
- Page last reviewed: January 27, 2015
- Page last updated: April 19, 2016
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