Whooping cough vaccination in pregnancy

Whooping cough in Australia

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a highly contagious infection which affects children below the age of 6 months most of all. It is hard to control because, while we can and do vaccinate to protect against it, the antibodies we develop stop protecting us over time. Even if you catch whooping cough naturally, the protection wears off after about 20 years. This means that there are always members of our community who no longer are immune to whooping cough, allowing it to spread.

Quick facts:*

  • Whooping cough usually starts with an irritating cough which worsens to become a very persistent, repetitive cough which can last for 10 weeks or more

  • While annoying for adults, it is dangerous for young children

  • Australia usually experiences outbreaks every 3-4 years

  • Between 2008-2012 there was a sustained outbreak which resulted in the death of 11 children

  • Children under the age of 6 months are the most vulnerable

  • Between 2006-2012 42% of those hospitalised for whooping cough were under 6 months of age

  • 10 of the 11 children who died between 2006-2012 were under 6 months of age

  • In any given outbreak, at least 50% of children who are infected picked it up from a family member, usually a parent

Whooping cough vaccination in pregnancy:

  • Is recommended for every woman in every pregnancy, ideally between 20 - 32 weeks of pregnancy

  • Is still useful for baby if given as late as 7 days before birth

  • Is safe

  • Is effective

  • Protects mum

  • By protecting mum, protects her baby — she can not pass along an infection she does not have

  • Mum’s antibodies peak a couple of weeks after the vaccine and transfer from mum via the placenta into baby’s blood, providing protection for baby should they be exposed to whooping cough after birth

  • The antibodies transfer best after 30 weeks of pregnancy, but studies identify that the transfer is happening as early as 13 weeks

  • Vaccinating mum during pregnancy has been more effective than vaccinating mum and the extended family after pregnancy

Whooping cough vaccine facts:

  • Is not a live vaccine

  • Can not give you the whooping cough

  • Can sting and you may get a sore arm, headache and muscle aches and pains for a couple of days

  • Is available during pregnancy for free from your GP, although there may be a fee to see your GP

  • Is also recommended for household contacts of newborns, but is not provided for free

  • Children who have received whooping cough vaccines at the recommended times of 2, 4 and 6 months of age are generally protected against severe disease. Booster doses at 18 months and 4 years of age will continue to protect against severe disease

  • The guidelines recommend having a booster every 10 years for those who have regular contact with newborns, including healthcare workers, however some prefer to have a follow up jab at 5 years

*Further statistical information and original data source is from the NCIRS