Information on the pertussis (whooping cough) vaccines DTaP, Tdap, common & severe side effects, history, and prescribing information for patients and doctors.

Pertussis Vaccine

Pertussis (whooping cough) is a serious lung infection that is preventable with the DTaP pertussis vaccine for children, or the Tdap pertussis booster shot for teenagers and adults.

What is the pertussis vaccine?

After the isolation of B. pertussis in 1906, a variety of vaccines were developed. The most effective vaccines were made in the 1930s and they contained whole-cell pertussis.

Pertussis vaccines were in widespread use by the mid-1940s, when they were combined with vaccines against Diphtheria and Tetanus toxoids to make a DTP combination vaccine against all 3 diseases.

DTP vaccines are not used in the United States anymore because they have been replaced by a similar pertussis vaccine called DTaP. The difference is that DTP contained whole-cell pertussis and DTaP contains acellular pertussis, which is less likely to cause side effects.

There are two types of vaccines against pertussis — DTaP and Tdap. Infants receive the DTaP vaccine with a full-strength dose of the pertussis component. Teenagers and adults receive the Tdap booster shot that contains a lower-strength dose of the pertussis component.

The U.S. FDA has licensed the following pertussis vaccines:

Who gets the pertussis vaccine?

All babies, children, teenagers, adults, and pregnant women are recommended for DTaP or Tdap pertussis vaccines, unless they have a medical reason to not get the vaccine.

DTaP is given in a series of 5 shots to children under the age of 7 years old, with the first shot given at the age of 2 months old and the last shot given at around 4-6 years of age or before they start school.

Tdap is given as a booster shot for teenagers (usually at around 11 or 12 years old). One shot of Tdap is also recommend for pregnant women in the 3rd trimester of every pregnancy to protect their newborn baby from pertussis in the baby’s first few months of life.

Who should NOT get the vaccine?

Generally, anyone who has had a serious allergic reaction (e.g. anaphylaxis) to a pertussis vaccine or any other ingredient in the vaccine should not receive another dose of the same vaccine.

Certain rare side effects after pertussis vaccination is a precaution against receiving further doses. Such events include:

  • Fever over 105ºF within 2 days
  • Severe pain or swelling
  • Collapse or shock-like state within 2 days
  • Persistent crying for more than 3 hours
  • Seizures or convulsions within 3 days
  • Brain or Neurological condition
  • Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) or severe muscle weakness within 6 weeks
  • Moderate or severe illness (wait until you get better)

What is the immunization schedule for pertussis?

The immunization schedule for pertussis starts before a baby is born. One shot of the Tdap pertussis vaccine is recommended for pregnant women in the 3rd trimester to protect a baby in its first few months of life.

Infants normally receive the DTaP vaccine against pertussis soon after birth. It is given in a series of 5 shots, with one shot given at the ages of 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15-18 months, and 4-6 years old.

Teenagers and adults receive one dose of the Tdap booster shot against pertussis, usually at 11 or 12 years old. Older people who did not receive Tdap at that age should still get one dose of Tdap.

What are common side effects of pertussis vaccines?

  • Mild fever
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea
  • Tiredness
  • Generally feeling sick (malaise)
  • Light-headedness
  • Headache
  • Injection-site reactions (pain, itching, swelling, tenderness, lump, or redness where the shot was given)

To learn more about the side effects associated with the pertussis vaccine, please visit this page: Pertussis Vaccine Side Effects.

Can the pertussis vaccines cause pertussis?

No. Pertussis vaccines can’t cause whooping cough (pertussis) because they do not contain live bacteria. The only pertussis vaccines in use in the United States contain purified, inactivated parts of the bacteria that causes whooping cough (Bordetella pertussis).

What are severe side effects of pertussis vaccines?

  • Allergic reaction
  • Anaphylactic shock
  • Arthralgia
  • Arthus-type hypersensitivity reactions
  • Brachial neuritis
  • Brachial plexus neuropathies
  • Cochlear lesion
  • Death
  • Encephalopathy
  • Fever
  • Guillain-Barré Syndrome
  • Hypersensitivity
  • Low blood pressure
  • Neurological complications
  • Paralysis of the radial nerve
  • Paralysis of the recurrent nerve
  • Paresis
  • Severe pain, swelling, bleeding, or redness in the injected arm
  • Shoulder Injury Related to Vaccine Administration (SIRVA)

Where can I get more information?

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