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Whooping cough vaccination in pregnancy guide

Updated 26 June 2024

Applies to England

Act now to protect your baby against whooping cough from birth.

Whooping cough (pertussis) can be serious for babies and may lead to complications, resulting in hospitalisation and even death. You can help protect your baby against whooping cough in their first weeks by having the whooping cough vaccine while pregnant.

The whooping cough vaccine is usually offered around the time of your mid pregnancy scan (around 20 weeks) but you can have it from 16 weeks. Vaccination in pregnancy provides very high levels of protection against serious whooping cough disease until your baby can have their own vaccination at 8 weeks of age. You will need to have the whooping cough vaccine in every pregnancy to boost the antibody you pass on to you baby. You should have the vaccine even if you have had it during a previous pregnancy. Your baby will still need their routine immunisations from 8 weeks of age.

Studies from the UK and other countries have shown that the whooping cough vaccine in pregnancy is very safe and effective for you and your baby. If you have reached 20 weeks of pregnancy and not been offered the whooping cough vaccine, talk to your midwife or GP practice to make an appointment to get vaccinated.

Whooping cough (pertussis)

Whooping cough (also known as pertussis) is an infection that 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 often lasts for 2 to 4 months. Babies under 1 year of age are most at risk from whooping cough. For these babies, the disease can be very serious and may lead to pneumonia and permanent brain damage. In the worst cases, it can cause death.

Whooping cough peaks every 3 to 5 years in the UK. Cases increased in all age groups across the country from late 2023 continuing into 2024.

Whooping cough vaccination is offered during pregnancy in the UK and around the world including in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Ireland, Israel, New Zealand, Spain and the US.

How the whooping cough vaccine protects you and your baby

The antibodies your body develops from having the vaccine protect you and are passed to your baby through the placenta. This will help protect your baby in their first vulnerable weeks of life, until they are old enough to have their first vaccine at 8 weeks of age.

No vaccination is 100% effective at preventing disease and studies in the UK since the beginning of the programme have shown that the vaccine is around 90% effective at protecting your baby from whooping cough until they can have their first vaccine. If they do catch whooping cough, it should be much less severe.

Breastfeeding alone cannot provide enough protection to your baby even if you have been vaccinated against whooping cough in the past. Having the whooping cough vaccine whilst pregnant will boost your protection and your baby’s.

Timing of the vaccination

The whooping cough vaccine should be offered to you around the time of your mid pregnancy scan (normally at 20 weeks) but you can have the vaccine from 16 weeks.

To give your baby the best protection you should try and get the vaccine before 32 weeks but if you have missed out you can still have the vaccine later. It may be less effective if you have the vaccine close to when your baby is born.

You can even have whooping cough vaccine after you give birth. Having the vaccine up to 8 weeks after you have given birth can protect you from whooping cough infection, reducing the chance of you passing on the infection to your baby.

Babies are not given their whooping cough vaccines earlier as they may not respond as well. Once your baby is old enough they will be offered their own vaccines to protect them from whooping cough at 8, 12 and 16 weeks. You can read all about the routine vaccinations offered to infants in ‘A Guide to Immunisation for babies up to 13 months’. Having all three doses helps your baby to build up the best protection. They will also get a booster dose at pre-school age around 3 years later.

The safety of the whooping cough vaccine

The vaccine you will be offered, called ADACEL, also protects against diphtheria and tetanus.

All the parts of the vaccine are not live (inactivated) and can be safely given in pregnancy.

You can read more about ADACEL in the manufacturer patient information leaflet: ADACEL.

This vaccine is safe to have during pregnancy. Studies in the UK and from around the world have shown the whooping cough vaccine is very safe for you and your baby. Many countries in Europe, America, Australia and New Zealand also recommend whooping cough vaccine in pregnancy.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in the UK 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 the same in vaccinated and unvaccinated women.

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

Having whooping cough and flu 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 should have both vaccines. The whooping cough and flu vaccines are safe to have at the same time, but you should not wait until the winter season to have them together.

Side effects

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. There are no safety concerns specific to having the vaccine during pregnancy.

You can report suspected side effects to the MHRA:

  • on the Yellow Card website
  • by calling the free phone line: 0800 731 6789 (9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday)
  • by downloading the Yellow Card App on iOS or Android

Further information

  • See vaccinations on NHS.UK
  • More information about maternal vaccinations is also available on .GOV.UK