Overview

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.

It's important you get the whooping cough vaccine as soon as possible from week 16 of your pregnancy. This will protect you against whooping cough, and protect your baby from getting it in their first weeks of life.

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. Talk to your midwife, practice nurse or GP and make an appointment to get immunised as soon as possible after week 16 of your pregnancy.

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

Strict infection prevention and control measures are in place during your appointment. Please follow the latest coronavirus COVID-19 guidance when attending your appointment.

If you have symptoms of coronavirus, or have been in contact with someone who does, call the number on your invitation to rearrange your appointment.

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

Who's 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.

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

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.

You must let your midwife, GP practice or obstetrician know straight away if you have a rash, or have any contact with another person with a rash at any time during your pregnancy.

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

More on screening for infectious diseases during pregnancy

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?
Where and when to get the whooping cough vaccine

If you’re 16 weeks pregnant or more, speak to your midwife to find out local arrangements for getting your whooping cough vaccine.

To improve how vaccinations are offered, you may notice:

  • you're invited to a new location to receive your immunisations instead of your GP practice
  • the health professional giving your immunisations changes

Your midwife will be able to advise you where you will be offered your vaccine. You'll still receive clear information about the location, date and time of your appointment.

How effective is the vaccine?

The vaccine is an effective way to help protect your unborn baby from whooping cough until they're old enough to have their own 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.

The immunity your baby receives from you will wear off. Make sure they get their routine immunisations from 8 weeks old when they'll receive their first dose of the whooping cough vaccine (six-in-one).

How does getting immunised during pregnancy protect my baby?

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.

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

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

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.

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.

How do we know the vaccine's safe?

There is no evidence that immunising pregnant women with this type of vaccine can cause any harm.

The whooping cough vaccine is not a live vaccine and it cannot cause whooping cough in women or their babies.

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.

The whooping cough vaccine is the safest and most effective way to protect your unborn baby from whooping cough.

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.

Can I have this vaccine at the same time as other recommended vaccines?

It is safe to have the whooping cough vaccine at the same time as the flu or coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine. It’s important that you don't delay any vaccination in order to have them at the same time.

The coronavirus vaccine is strongly recommended in pregnancy. Having all the recommended doses is important for longer-term protection against coronavirus. The coronavirus vaccine can be given at any stage during pregnancy and is the best way to protect you and your baby from the known risks of coronavirus in pregnancy.

If you're pregnant during the flu season (October to March), then you should have the flu vaccine as early as you can during pregnancy.

If you have any questions about vaccinations and when you will be offered them, please speak to your midwife.

Learn more about the coronavirus vaccine for pregnant women

Learn more about the flu vaccine for pregnant women

After the vaccine

After having the vaccine there may be side effects, but these are usually mild.

Side effects

The whooping cough vaccine is safe and effective but, like all medicines, can cause 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 suspected 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 0808 100 3352 (available Monday to Friday, 10.00am to 2.00pm)

Further information

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

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

Other formats

Public Health Scotland has produced print, audio, and video leaflets explaining the whooping cough vaccine in Scotland, why it's offered and when it's given.

These leaflets are also available in Easy Read English and other languages including Polish, Mandarin (Simplified Chinese) and Arabic.

Whooping cough vaccine

Last updated:
06 June 2022

Other languages and formats

British Sign Language (BSL)  |  Audio

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