Whooping Cough Is Deadly for Babies

Whooping cough can be serious for anyone, but it is life-threatening in newborns and young babies.

The younger the baby is when he gets whooping cough, the more likely he will need to be treated in a hospital.

Priority: Preventing Infant Deaths through Vaccination

There are currently no whooping cough vaccines licensed or recommended for newborns at birth. For this reason, three vaccination strategies are used in combination with each other to provide the best protection possible to newborns and young babies:

  1. Vaccinate pregnant women in their third trimester to give their newborns short-term immunity.
  2. Vaccinate family members and caregivers before they meet the baby.
  3. Vaccinate babies on time, beginning at 2 months of age, so they build their own immunity.

Every Pregnancy Vaccination Recommendation

CDC recommends that pregnant women receive the whooping cough vaccine called Tdap during each pregnancy. By doing so, the mother’s body creates protective antibodies and passes some of them to her baby before birth. These antibodies give babies some short-term protection against whooping cough until they can begin building their own immunity through childhood vaccinations.

Antibody levels are highest about two weeks after getting the vaccine. The vaccine is recommended in the third trimester, preferably between the 27th and 36th week of pregnancy, so the mother gives her baby the most protection (antibodies).

The amount of whooping cough antibodies in a person decreases over time. This is why women need a whooping cough vaccine during each pregnancy so high levels of protective antibodies are transferred to each baby.

Learn more about vaccinating against whooping cough.

Childhood Vaccine Recommendation

The whooping cough vaccine for children (2 months through 6 years) is called DTaP. Children need their whooping cough vaccine on time as it is the best way to prevent whooping cough during childhood. DTaP vaccines should be given at 2, 4, and 6 months of age to build up high levels of protection. Booster shots are needed at 15 through 18 months and at 4 through 6 years to maintain that protection.

Vaccine Safety and Side Effects

Vaccines, including whooping cough vaccines, are held to the highest standards of safety. Experts have studied the whooping cough vaccine for adolescents and adults (Tdap), and they have concluded that it is very safe for pregnant women and their babies. Results from many clinical trials showed that DTaP vaccines are very safe for infants and children. CDC continually monitors whooping cough vaccine safety.

While whooping cough vaccines (Tdap and DTaP) are safe, side effects can occur. The most common side effects are mild (redness, swelling, tenderness) and serious side effects are extremely rare.

Vaccine Effectiveness

Getting whooping cough or a whooping cough vaccine (as a child or an adult) does not provide lifetime protection. In general, DTaP vaccination is effective for 89 out of 100 children who receive it, and Tdap vaccination protects 65 out of 100 people who receive it. Protection from both whooping cough vaccines fades over time, but people who are vaccinated and get whooping cough later are typically protected against severe illness.

Get more information from the CDC about protecting babies from whooping cough.