Healthy living

Pertussis vaccine in pregnancy – what expectant mothers need to know

Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a highly contagious bacterial disease that is easily spread by coughing and sneezing.

It commonly causes bouts of severe coughing that can last for months. Pertussis infection can be especially severe in infants under 12 months of age, causing breathing problems, pneumonia, and sometimes death.

Read the video transcript – Parents of Riley Hughes talk about the importance of vaccination.

Why should pregnant women be vaccinated against pertussis?

Pertussis vaccination in pregnancy works in two ways:

  • It helps protect the mother – Pertussis vaccine reduces the risk of the mother catching whooping cough and passing it to her newborn baby. Parents are a common source of whooping cough infection for children under 12 months old.
  • It helps protect the baby – Babies born to mothers who have had a pertussis vaccine in pregnancy have higher levels of antibodies against the disease than babies whose mothers were not vaccinated. This is because the antibodies made by the mother in response to the vaccine are passed to her baby across the placenta soon after vaccination and until delivery. The mother’s antibodies can help protect the newborn during the first months of life when they are most vulnerable to severe pertussis infection but still too young to be vaccinated themselves.
When is the best time for a pregnant woman to be vaccinated against pertussis?

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisations (ATAGI) recommends pertussis vaccine (dTpa) be given during the third trimester of every pregnancy, including pregnancies which are closely spaced, for example, under 2 years apart. The optimal time for pertussis vaccination is between 28-32 weeks of pregnancy, but the vaccine may be given at any time in the third trimester. Women who have received pertussis vaccine during or after a previous pregnancy should be re-vaccinated in the third trimester of their current pregnancy.

Is the pertussis vaccine safe in pregnancy?

Pertussis vaccine has been used routinely in pregnant women in the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US) since 2012 and careful monitoring of this practice indicates that the vaccine is safe for pregnant women and their unborn babies.

In addition, large studies from the US and the UK looking at birth outcomes following pertussis vaccination during pregnancy have found no evidence of increased risk for stillbirth, premature birth, death of the baby within 28 days of birth, foetal distress, caesarean delivery, or low birth weight.

Can I have the pertussis and flu vaccines at the same time?

Yes. You can get the pertussis vaccine and flu vaccine at the same time during your pregnancy. You can also get them at different visits. To be optimally protected from flu, you should get the flu vaccine when it is available between March and July regardless of what trimester of pregnancy you are in. However, you should wait to get the pertussis vaccine until you are in the third trimester.

Can I get whooping cough from the pertussis vaccine?

No. Pertussis vaccines cannot give you or your baby whooping cough because they do not contain any live bacteria. The pertussis vaccines used contain purified, inactivated parts of the pertussis bacteria that cause the disease along with inactive toxoids from the bacteria that cause tetanus and diphtheria. These proteins stimulate the immune system to make antibodies against whooping cough, tetanus and diphtheria, but cannot cause the disease itself.

Can there be side effects from pertussis vaccine in pregnancy?

With any medicine, including the diphtheria-tetanus and inactivated pertussis (dTpa) vaccine, there is a chance of side effects. These are usually minor, but serious reactions are also possible. Most side effects do not affect daily activities and get better on their own in a few days. Common mild side effects from the dTpa vaccine include redness, swelling, pain, and tenderness where the injection is given, body-ache, fatigue, or fever. Headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach ache, and arm swelling have also been reported. More serious reactions like severe swelling, pain, and redness in the arm where the injection was given occur rarely.

A life-threatening allergic reaction can happen after any vaccine, including dTpa, but the estimated risk is less than 1 in a million vaccinations. Signs of a severe allergic reaction can include hives, swelling of the face and throat, difficulty in breathing, a fast heartbeat, dizziness, and weakness. These would start a few minutes to a few hours after vaccination.

If you think you are having a severe allergic reaction or any other medical emergency that requires urgent attention, call 000 or go to the nearest hospital. Otherwise, call your doctor.

Are there people who should not get the pertussis vaccine?

If you ever had a life-threatening allergic reaction after a dose of any pertussis, tetanus, or diphtheria containing vaccine, OR if you have a severe allergy to any part of this vaccine, you should not get dTpa. Tell your doctor if you have any severe allergies.

What is the WA Health Department doing to assure the safety of vaccines given to pregnant women?

WA Health has a program to routinely monitor vaccinations provided to pregnant women. Talk to your provider if you would like to participate in this follow-up service.

Where to get help

  • See your doctor, obstetrician or midwife.
  • Ring healthdirect Australia on 1800 022 222.
  • Phone the Immunise Australia Hotline on 1800 671 811.


Public Health

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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