Promotional material

Whooping cough vaccination in pregnancy guide

Updated 31 May 2022

Applies to England

There is a lot of whooping cough around at the moment and babies who are too young to start their vaccinations are at greatest risk.

Expectant mothers can help protect their babies by getting themselves vaccinated against whooping cough from 16 weeks. The vaccine is sometimes offered after the mid-pregnancy scan around 18 to 20 weeks.

The vaccination programme was introduced in 2012 and has already protected many young babies against whooping cough. Because the disease continues to circulate at high levels in older age groups, pregnant women still need to be vaccinated.

It is important to be vaccinated with every pregnancy.

You may have thought whooping cough had died out but the number of cases in England and Wales started to increase from late 2011.

In 2012 there were 10 times as many cases as would be expected in a peak year of disease. Of particular concern was the rising number of cases in young babies who are too young to be vaccinated themselves.

To protect their babies from this serious disease all pregnant women are being offered the whooping cough vaccine. This programme has been in place since 2012 and is highly effective at protecting babies until they can have their first vaccine at 2 months of age. However, whooping cough levels are still high in older age groups, so it’s important that babies continue to be protected.

Protecting your baby

Whooping cough is a serious disease that can lead to pneumonia and permanent brain damage. Most young babies with whooping cough will be admitted to hospital and they are at risk of dying from the disease. Deaths from whooping cough are rare in the UK but more babies died in 2012 than in previous recent years.

Young babies are particularly at risk of serious disease and they remain vulnerable until they can be vaccinated against whooping cough from 2 months of age. You can help protect your unborn baby against whooping cough in its first weeks by having the whooping cough vaccination while you are pregnant. You should have the vaccination even if you’ve been vaccinated before or have had whooping cough yourself.

The best time to get vaccinated to protect your baby is from week 16 up to 32 weeks of pregnancy. You can have the vaccine anytime from 16 weeks but if you have it after 38 weeks it may be less effective.

Uptake of the vaccine amongst pregnant women has been very encouraging and the vaccination programme has been very effective in protecting young babies against whooping cough.

Act now to protect your baby from whooping cough from birth. Talk to your midwife or GP practice and make an appointment to get vaccinated.

Your baby will still need to be vaccinated as normal when he or she reaches 8 weeks of age.

Information about whooping cough

What is whooping cough

Whooping cough (also known as pertussis) causes long bursts of coughing and choking, making it hard to breathe. The ‘whoop’ noise is caused by gasping for breath after each burst of coughing.

Young babies don’t always do this which can make it difficult to recognise the disease. Whooping cough commonly lasts for 2 to 3 months. Babies under one year of age are most at risk from whooping cough. For these babies, the disease is very serious and can lead to pneumonia and permanent brain damage. In the worst cases, it can cause death.

Whooping cough outbreaks

On average, in the 10 years from 2002 to 2011 in England and Wales, 800 cases of whooping cough were reported every year with over 300 babies having to go to hospital and 4 babies dying. During 2012, however, cases of whooping cough rose sharply with nearly 10,000 cases and 14 baby deaths.

The causes of this increase are not yet fully understood but are being investigated. Of greatest importance is the protection of young babies who are the most likely to suffer badly if they catch the disease. We can best protect these babies by vaccinating women between weeks 16 and 32 of their pregnancy. This will help protect the baby from birth until its first routine vaccine is due at 2 months of age.

Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Ireland, Israel, New Zealand, Spain, UK and US are all experiencing similar problem with rising numbers of cases and deaths of young children. All of these countries now recommend the maternal pertussis vaccination.

Information for pregnant women

Are there any risks to you or your baby if you are vaccinated whilst pregnant?

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in the UK has completed a large study of the safety of the vaccine in pregnancy in 2014. This study, including nearly 18,000 vaccinated women, found no risks to pregnancy associated with the vaccine and rates of normal, healthy births were no different to those as in unvaccinated women. Similar vaccines are also routinely recommended during pregnancy in the US where no risks to pregnancy have been found.

The whooping cough vaccine is not a live vaccine so it can’t cause whooping cough in you or your baby if you have the vaccine. It’s safer for you to have the vaccine than to risk your newborn baby catching whooping cough.

As there is no whooping cough only vaccine, the vaccine you will be offered also protects against polio, diphtheria and tetanus. It is the same vaccine that is routinely given to children before they start school. All the parts of the vaccine are killed (inactivated) and it can be safely given in pregnancy.

Side effects from having the vaccine whilst pregnant

You may have some mild side effects from the vaccine that are common, such as swelling, redness or tenderness where the vaccine is given. Serious side effects are extremely rare, especially in adults. There are no safety concerns specific to having the vaccine during pregnancy.

How getting vaccinated during pregnancy protects your baby

The immunity you acquire from the vaccine will be passed to your baby through the placenta. This will help protect your baby in the first few vulnerable weeks of its life until he or she is old enough to have the vaccine at 2 months of age. Babies are offered whooping cough vaccination at 8, 12 and 16 weeks of age as part of their routine immunisations.

Will the vaccine definitely mean your baby doesn’t get whooping cough?

No vaccination guarantees 100% protection but this programme has been in place since 2012 in the UK and published studies have shown that the vaccine is over 90% effective in protecting your baby from whooping cough until his or her vaccinations start at 2 months of age.

You are still concerned about having a vaccination while you are pregnant - is there an alternative way to protect your baby from whooping cough

Unfortunately, there is no effective alternative. In recent years, most of the whooping cough deaths in the UK have been in young babies before they were old enough to have their first whooping cough vaccination. Any protection you may have had through either having had whooping cough or being vaccinated when you were young may have worn off. Having the vaccine during pregnancy provides antibodies that will be passed to your baby so he or she has some protection in the first few weeks of life when whooping cough is most serious.

Why your baby can’t be vaccinated as soon as it’s born

Even if immunised immediately, your baby would not be protected from birth as it takes up to 2 weeks to develop a response to the vaccine and babies need 3 doses to build up full protection.

How long will your vaccination protect your baby from whooping cough?

The immunity your newborn baby gets from your vaccination will help protect it through the very early weeks of life until it can have its first routine vaccination at 2 months of age. Your baby will still need the full course of 3 routine whooping cough vaccinations to protect them until they have their pre-school booster dose 3 years later.

You had the vaccination as a child and you are going to breast feed - won’t that protect your baby

Unfortunately, breast feeding won’t provide enough protection for your baby against whooping cough.

If you are expecting twins

One vaccination will help protect all your babies, no matter how many you are expecting.

If you get pregnant again soon after the birth of your baby

You should get revaccinated ideally between 16 and 32 weeks of any pregnancy.

Timing of the vaccination

If you are pregnant, you should have your vaccination between weeks 16 to 32. You may be offered it when you have your mid-pregnancy scan around 18 to 20 weeks.

How late in your pregnancy can you have the vaccination?

The vaccination should ideally be given anytime between 16 and 32 weeks. You can still have the vaccination up to your time of delivery, but it may be less effective after 38 weeks.

What you should do now

If you are in week 16 of your pregnancy and you haven’t heard from your midwife or GP practice, contact them to arrange an appointment at the earliest opportunity.

Having the flu and whooping cough vaccines at the same time

If you are pregnant during the flu season, then you should have the flu vaccine as early as possible in your pregnancy. If you are 16 weeks and over, then you can and should have both vaccines.

The whooping cough vaccine can be given at the same time as the flu vaccine but do not wait until the winter season to have them together. Your baby will get the best protection if you have the vaccine from week 16 of your pregnancy.

What you need to know

Whooping cough is a serious disease in babies in whom it can lead to complications resulting in hospitalisation and even death.

Expectant mothers can protect their babies from birth by having the whooping cough vaccination whilst pregnant.

The best time to get vaccinated is between weeks 16 and 32 of your pregnancy.

You may be offered the whooping cough vaccine after your mid-pregnancy scan, usually performed between 18 and 20 weeks. If you have not been offered it, please ask your midwife or your GP practice.

The number of babies infected with whooping cough has fallen since vaccination in pregnancy was introduced.

But pregnant mothers still need to get vaccinated because the disease remains at high levels in older children and adults.

Remember, you can still have your whooping cough vaccination up to your time of delivery, but it may be less effective after 38 weeks.

In a recent UK study of nearly 18,000 vaccinated pregnant women there was no increased risk to their pregnancies or babies from vaccination.

Further information

See vaccinations on NHS.UK