Vaccine (Shot) for Whooping Cough (Pertussis)

Whooping Cough (Pertussis)

How to pronounce Pertussis: [per-tuhs-is] or Listenmedia icon

Five doses of the DTaP shot and a Tdap booster shot are recommended by doctors as the best way to protect against whooping cough (pertussis).

When should my child get the pertussis shot?

Doctors recommend 5 doses of DTaP vaccine and 1 booster dose of Tdap at the following ages:

Why should my child get a pertussis shot?

  • Helps protect your child from whooping cough, a potentially serious and even deadly disease, as well as diphtheria and tetanus.
  • Helps prevent your child from having violent coughing fits from whooping cough.
  • Helps protect your newborn when she is most vulnerable to serious disease and complications.
  • Keeps your child from missing school or childcare and you from missing work.

What vaccines protect against whooping cough?

  • There are 2 vaccines that include protection against whooping cough:
    • The DTaP vaccine protects young children from diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough
    • The Tdap vaccine protects preteens, teens, pregnant women, and adults from tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough

Should I get vaccinated if I’m pregnant?

Whooping cough can make your baby very sick with coughing fits and gasping for air. It can even be deadly, and there are outbreaks happening across the United States.

When you get the whooping cough vaccine (also called Tdap) during the 27th through 36th week of your pregnancy, you’ll pass antibodies to your baby that will help protect her from this disease from the time she’s born. These antibodies will last for the first few months of her life, when she is most vulnerable to serious disease and complications.

Does my baby need whooping cough vaccine if I got whooping cough vaccine (Tdap) during my pregnancy?

The protection (antibodies) you passed to your baby before birth will give him or her some early protection against whooping cough. However, these antibodies will only give your baby short-term protection. It is very important for your baby to get vaccines on time so he can start building his own protection against this serious disease.

Pertussis shots are safe.

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The pertussis shots are very safe, and are effective at preventing pertussis. Vaccines like any medicine, can have side effects. These are usually mild and go away on their own.

What are the side effects?

Most children don’t have any side effects from the shot. The side effects that do occur are usually mild, and may include:

  • Redness, swelling, or pain where the shot was given
  • Fever
  • Vomiting

These types of side effects happen in about 1 out of every 4 children who get the shot.

More serious side effects are very rare but can include:

  • A fever over 105 degrees
  • Nonstop crying for 3 hours or more
  • Seizures (jerking, twitching of the muscles, or staring)

Some preteens and teens might faint after getting the Tdap vaccine or any other shot.

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To prevent fainting and injuries related to fainting: adolescents should be seated or lying down during vaccination and remain in that position for 15 minutes after the vaccine is given.

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Prepare for your child's vaccine visit and learn about how you can:

  • Research vaccines and ready your child before the visit
  • Comfort your child during the appointment
  • Care for your child after the shot
Before, During, and After Shots

What is whooping cough?

  • Whooping cough—or pertussis—is a very serious respiratory (in the lungs and breathing tubes) infection.
  • It is caused by the pertussis bacteria.
  • It can cause violent coughing fits.
  • Whooping cough is most harmful for young babies and can be deadly.
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Hear how the cough may soundexternal icon

It is important to know that not everyone with the pertussis coughs or “whoops”.

What are the symptoms of whooping cough?

Whooping cough starts with the following symptoms:

  • Runny or stuffed-up nose
  • Mild cough
  • A pause in breathing in babies (apnea)

Coughing can start 1 to 2 weeks after being exposed to the bacteria. Children and babies may then begin to develop these more serious problems:

  • Coughing very hard, over and over. These coughing fits happen more at night.
  • Gasping for breath after a coughing fit. They may make a “whooping” sound. This sound is where the name “whooping cough” comes from. Babies may not cough or make this sound—they may gag and gasp.
  • Difficulty breathing, eating, drinking, or sleeping because of coughing fits.
  • Turning blue (while coughing) from lack of oxygen.
  • Vomiting after coughing fits.

Coughing fits can last for 10 weeks, and sometimes happen again the next time the child has a respiratory illness.

Is it serious?

14 diseases you almost forgot about.

Whooping cough is most dangerous for babies and young children. In fact, babies younger than 1 year old who have whooping cough may:

  • Need to be cared for in the hospital
  • Develop pneumonia (a serious lung infection)
  • Have seizures
  • Suffer brain damage

Whooping cough can even be deadly. Since 2010, up to 20 babies have died each year from whooping cough in the United States. Most of these babies don’t have protection against whooping cough because they are too young to get the shots.

How does whooping cough spread?

Whooping cough spreads easily through the air when a person who has whooping cough breathes, coughs, or sneezes. Almost everyone who is not immune to whooping cough will get sick if exposed to it. A person can spread the disease from the very beginning of the sickness (when he has cold-like symptoms) and for at least 2 weeks after coughing starts.

Since symptoms can be mild for some people, your baby can catch whooping cough from adults, grandparents, or older brothers or sisters who don’t know they have the disease.

Do people still get whooping cough in the United States?

Before the whooping cough vaccines were recommended for all infants, about 8,000 people in the United States died each year from whooping cough. Today, because of the vaccine, this number has dropped to fewer than 20 per year.

But, cases of whooping cough have been increasing over the past several years, and outbreaks of whooping cough can occur. We don’t know exactly why the number of cases is increasing, but we think it’s a combination of many different reasons, including:

  • Doctors and nurses are more aware of whooping cough and recognize it more often.
  • The ways we test for the disease have gotten better.
  • Protection from whooping cough vaccines is not long-lasting.

Follow the vaccine schedule

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Academy of Family Physicians, and the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommend children receive all vaccines according to the recommended vaccine schedule.

Page last reviewed: August 2, 2019