Whooping cough vaccine


The whooping cough vaccine is offered to pregnant women to help protect their baby against whooping cough (also known as pertussis). Getting the vaccine will protect your baby from birth, before they start their routine childhood immunisations.

What’s whooping cough?

Whooping cough (also known as pertussis):

  • causes long bouts of coughing and choking, making it hard to breathe
  • usually lasts for 2 to 3 months
  • is easily spread by breathing in tiny droplets that are released into the air by other people’s coughs and sneezes

The ‘whoop’ noise is caused by gasping for breath after each bout of coughing. Not all cases will make the ‘whooping’ sound, which can make it difficult to recognise the disease.

Babies under one year of age are most at risk from whooping cough. For these babies, the disease is very serious and can lead to pneumonia and permanent brain damage. In the worst cases, it can be life threatening.

More about whooping cough

Why should I be vaccinated?

Getting immunised during pregnancy will help protect your baby in the first few vulnerable weeks of life until they’re old enough to have the routine immunisation at 8 weeks of age.

The immunity you get from the vaccine will be passed to your baby across the placenta. The placenta is inside the mother’s womb and links the mother’s blood supply with their unborn baby. The baby gets nourishment from the placenta.

There is no other way to protect your baby from whooping cough in the first few weeks of their life. Your protection, from either having whooping cough or being immunised when you were young, has now worn off.

Even if you’re planning to breastfeed, breast milk does not pass on enough protection from whooping cough to protect your baby.

The protection you receive from vaccination will also lower your own risk of whooping cough infection and the risk of passing whooping cough to your baby.

Read more about vaccines for your baby

What about other infections during pregnancy?

You’ll be offered a blood test for infections that can affect you and your baby, such as:

  • hepatitis B
  • syphilis
  • HIV

We screen for these conditions because simple treatments can reduce the risks to you and your baby.

Any illness where you have a fever and a rash could mean you have an infectious disease. This could harm your unborn baby.

More on screening for infectious diseases during pregnancy

Contact your midwife, GP practice or obstetrician immediately if:

  • you have a rash during pregnancy
  • you have contact with another person with a rash during pregnancy

You should avoid contact with any other pregnant women until you’ve been assessed. This includes any antenatal clinics or other maternity settings.

If your GP surgery is closed, you can call the 111 service for free.

Who is eligible for the vaccine?

All pregnant women are eligible for the whooping cough vaccine from week 16 of their pregnancy. The ideal time to have the vaccine is between weeks 16 and 32, but the sooner you get it the better. This means there’s more time for your body to make antibodies and for these to be passed to your unborn baby.

You may still have the vaccine after you’re 32 weeks pregnant, but it won’t offer your baby the same level of protection.

I have a newborn baby but wasn’t immunised when pregnant. Can I have the vaccine now?

Women who miss out on the immunisation during pregnancy may be offered the vaccine up to when their child receives their first vaccination, if they’ve never previously been immunised against whooping cough.

When will I be immunised?

Immunisation is recommended as soon as possible from week 16 of your pregnancy. Having the vaccine after 32 weeks won’t give your baby the same level of protection. Speak to your midwife to find out the local arrangements for the vaccination. They will be able to advise you on how to arrange your appointments.

The whooping cough vaccine is recommended every time you’re pregnant, even if you’ve had the vaccine before.

If you’re unsure about anything, or have any questions about the whooping cough vaccine, contact:

The vaccine

As there’s currently no single whooping cough-only vaccine available, you’ll be given a combined vaccine that protects against 4 different diseases:

  • whooping cough (pertussis)
  • diphtheria
  • tetanus
  • polio

What vaccine is used?

The Boostrix-IPV suspension for injection and Repevax suspension for injection are both routinely used in Scotland.

How effective is the vaccine?

Immunising pregnant women is effective at reducing the number of babies getting whooping cough. The vaccine has been routinely offered to pregnant women in Scotland since 2012.

How long will my immunisation protect my baby from whooping cough?

The vaccine will help protect your baby during their first few weeks of life until they have their own vaccine to protect against whooping cough (six-in-one). The first dose of this vaccine is usually offered at 8 weeks of age.

Babies are offered the whooping cough vaccine at 8, 12 and 16 weeks of age as part of their routine immunisations. They will then be offered a fourth vaccination at around 3 years and 4 months.

How many doses of the vaccine do I need?

To give you the best protection, you’ll be offered one dose, no matter how many babies you’re expecting.

How do we know the vaccine is safe?

There is no evidence that immunising pregnant women with this type of vaccine can cause any harm. A 2014 study in the UK (of nearly 18,000 pregnant women) found no safety concerns related to getting immunised against whooping cough when pregnant.

The whooping cough vaccine is not a live vaccine and it cannot cause whooping cough in women or their babies. The whooping cough vaccine is the safest and most effective way to protect your unborn baby from whooping cough.

All medicines (including vaccines) are tested for safety and effectiveness by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). The vaccine meets the high safety standards required for it to be used in the UK and other European countries. The vaccine has been given to millions of people worldwide.

Once they’re in use, the safety of vaccines continues to be monitored by the MHRA.

After the vaccine

The whooping cough vaccine is safe and effective but, like all medicines, can cause side effects.

Side effects

It’s normal to experience side effects after the vaccine. These are usually mild and may include redness or tenderness where the vaccine was given (this will be an injection in the upper arm).

Other side effects can include:

  • a fever
  • irritation at the injection site
  • swelling of the vaccinated arm
  • loss of appetite
  • irritability
  • a headache

Serious side effects are extremely rare, especially in adults.

Where can I report side effects?

You can report suspected side effects of vaccines and medicines through the Yellow Card Scheme.

This can be done by:

  • visiting the Yellow Card Scheme website
  • phoning the free Yellow Card hotline on 0800 731 6789 (available Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm)

Vaccine Safety Net Member

Public Health Scotland is a proud member of the Vaccine Safety Net and partners with NHS inform to provide reliable information on vaccine safety.

The Vaccine Safety Net is a global network of websites, evaluated by the World Health Organization, that provides reliable information on vaccine safety.

More about the Vaccine Safety Net

Further information in other languages and formats

Further information on the whooping cough vaccine is available in this leaflet.

If you need the leaflet in a different language or format, please contact phs.otherformats@phs.scot

Last updated:
20 November 2023

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