Is the whooping cough vaccine safe?

The Department of Health has developed a vaccine for pregnant women to protect their babies against this illness until the babies can be immunised themselves.

Whooping cough (pertussis) is a respiratory infection that develops into severe coughing fits.

Why do I need the whooping cough vaccine in pregnancy?

The vaccine is given to you in pregnancy so that your child does not get whooping cough as a baby. This illness can be very severe, especially in very young babies, and it can lead to hospitalisation and even death.

The number of cases of whooping cough in the UK has risen among babies who are too young to have had their vaccinations. 14 babies died in 2012 of whooping cough. Because of this, the Department of Health has developed a vaccine for pregnant women to protect their babies against this illness until the babies can be immunised themselves.

This vaccination programme was brought in in 2012. It was successful in reducing the numbers of babies dying so it has been continued. 

Babies born to vaccinated mothers are 90% less likely to get whooping cough than babies whose mothers are not vaccinated.

When will I get the whooping cough vaccine?

You will be offered a whooping cough vaccination between 16 and 32 weeks of pregnancy to boost your levels of antibodies. These antibodies will then be passed on to your baby for protection until they get their first vaccinations at two months old.

How do I know that there are no long term effects?

Comprehensive research into the vaccine has shown that it’s very safe, with no ill-effects for pregnant women or their babies. A large study of 18,000 vaccinated women found no evidence of an increased risk of stillbirth or any other pregnancy complications.

Why has this vaccination programme been put in place?

The programme of vaccination against whooping cough was introduced in 2012 as the UK reported the largest increase in whooping cough in over two decades. At that time, the greatest numbers of cases were in adolescents and young adults but the highest rates of illness and death happened in infants too young to be vaccinated. In England and Wales, a total of 14 infant deaths were reported in 2012.

Read more frequently asked questions in pregnancy

Sources

  • Public Health England (2014) Vaccination against pertussis (Whooping cough) for pregnant women- 2014 Information for healthcare professionals https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/vaccination-against-pertussis...
  • Amirthalingam G et al (2014) Effectiveness of maternal pertussis vaccination in England: an observational study, The Lancet, Volume 384, No.9953, p1521-1528, 25 October 2014
  • Dabrera G et al (2015) A case-control study to estimate the effectiveness of maternal pertussis vaccination in protecting newborn infants in England and Wales, 2012-2013. Clin Infect Dis. 60(3):333-7, 1 Feb 2015
  • Eberhardt C, Maternal Immunization earlier in pregnancy maximises antibody transfer and epected infant seropositivity against pertussis, Clinical Infectious Diseases, Volume 62, Issue 7, p829-836, 20 January 2016
  • Donegan K (2014)  Safety of pertussis vaccination in pregnant women in UK: observational study, BMJ, 2014;349:g4219
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Last reviewed on April 1st, 2014. Next review date April 1st, 2017.

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