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 CDC holds 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). 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 women get the vaccine 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, VAERS has not found any safety signals 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 got Tdap vaccine. 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. Pregnant women have been getting both tetanus and diphtheria toxoids (Td) and tetanus toxoid (TT) vaccines worldwide since the 1960s to prevent tetanus among newborns. This long history provides researchers a lot of data to understand their safety. Getting tetanus vaccine 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 you got the shot
In adults who have received 2 doses of the Tdap vaccine, the most commonly reported side effect was pain where they got the shot.
Severe side effects are extremely rare, especially in adults.
The Tdap vaccine combines protection against tetanus and diphtheria, in addition to whooping cough. Researchers have done studies 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 getting the shot (the swelling goes away within 4 to 7 days). Manufacturers now make these vaccines with lower doses of the tetanus component than tetanus vaccines in the past. Experts believe this change likely reduced the risk of severe local reactions.
DTaP is the name of the whooping cough vaccine for children (2 months through 6 years). The DTaP vaccine combines protection against diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough. Currently, there are 3 licensed formulations of the DTaP vaccine. Researchers conducted many different clinical trials on each vaccine to make sure of its safety. Results from clinical trials showed that these vaccines are very safe for infants and children. Doctors can safely give the DTaP vaccine 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. Some children get swelling of the entire arm or leg in which the shot was given (up to about 1 out of 30 children) following the 4th or 5th dose of DTaP vaccine. 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. You can and should get the whooping cough vaccine if you plan to breastfeed or are currently breastfeeding. There are, however, some vaccines that CDC does not recommend for you to get while breastfeeding.
Learn more about breastfeeding.
You can get the whooping cough and flu vaccines 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 by the end of October, if possible. But you can get the flu vaccine at any point during pregnancy. You do not have to wait until later in your pregnancy for the flu shot, like CDC recommends 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: June 29, 2017
- Page last updated: June 29, 2017
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