Why are pregnant women advised to have the whooping cough vaccine?
Getting vaccinated while you’re pregnant may help to protect your baby from developing whooping cough in their first few weeks of their life.
The immunity you get from the vaccine will pass to your baby through the placenta and provide passive protection for them until they are old enough to be routinely vaccinated against whooping cough at two months old.
Is the whooping cough vaccine safe in pregnancy?
Yes, it is. It’s understandable that you might have concerns about the safety of having a vaccine during pregnancy, but there’s no evidence to suggest that the whooping cough vaccine is unsafe for you or your unborn baby.
The vaccine, called Repevax, has been used routinely in pregnant women since October 2012 and been carefully monitored ever since by the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to check its safety. Their analysis to date, including around 18,000 vaccinated women, has found that rates of normal, healthy births, as well as any adverse outcomes, were similar to those seen in unvaccinated women
To date, 50-60% of eligible pregnant women (over half a million) have received the whooping cough vaccine with no safety concerns being identified in the baby or mother.
Vaccination against whooping cough in pregnancy is also routinely recommended in the United States and New Zealand.
Is whooping cough vaccination in pregnancy working?
Yes, it is. During 2012, 14 babies died from whooping cough before they could be protected by the vaccination programme, but there were only three infant deaths from whooping cough in 2013 – all three babies were too young to have been vaccinated themselves and none of their mothers had been vaccinated in pregnancy.
Which whooping cough vaccine will I be given?
As there is no whooping cough-only vaccine, the vaccine you’ll be given also protects against polio, diphtheria and tetanus. It’s called Repevax and is the same as the 4-in-1 vaccine, the pre-school booster, that’s routinely given to children before they start school.
Why is Repevax the recommended vaccine?
Repevax is the recommended vaccine because it’s already licensed as a booster following primary immunisation – as required in pregnant women.
Unlike whooping cough vaccines given to babies in the childhood vaccination programme, Repevax does not contain a Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type b) component and has lower levels of diphtheria and tetanus.
But the manufacturer’s leaflet says that Repevax shouldn’t be used in pregnancy?
As with other types of medicine, Repevax has not been tested on pregnant women which is why the manufacturer’s information leaflet says the vaccine should not be used in pregnant women.
However, the vaccine is being used in other countries and has been given to more than half a million women in the UK with no evidence of safety concerns in mother or baby.
What are the side effects of the whooping cough vaccine?
You may have some mild side effects such as swelling, redness or tenderness where the vaccine is injected in your upper arm just as you would with any vaccine. These only last a few days. Serious side effects are extremely rare.
What is whooping cough?
Whooping cough (medically known as pertussis) is a serious infection that causes long bouts of coughing and choking, making it hard to breathe. The ‘whoop’ is caused by gasping for breath after each bout of coughing, though babies don’t always make this noise.
Read more about whooping cough symptoms.
Should I be concerned about whooping cough?
Whooping cough is a highly infectious, serious illness that can lead to pneumonia and brain damage. Most babies with whooping cough will need hospital treatment, and when whooping cough is very severe they may die.
You may have thougt that whooping cough had died out, but since 2010 it’s been on the increase.
In the first seven months of 2012 before the vaccination programme began, 235 babies under 12 weeks old had whooping cough and 13 babies died from it.
In 2013, there was an 79% drop in cases to 85.
Watch a video describing how nasty whooping cough can be
But aren’t babies vaccinated against whooping cough to protect them?
Yes, they are, but the babies that have been getting whooping cough are generally too young to have started their normal vaccinations so they are not protected against the disease.
So, how can I protect my baby?
The only way you can help protect your baby from getting whooping cough in their first few weeks after birth is by having the whooping cough vaccination yourself while you are pregnant.
After vaccination, your body produces antibodies to protect against whooping cough. You will then pass some immunity to your unborn baby.
Will the whooping cough vaccine in pregnancy give me whooping cough?
The whooping cough vaccine is not a ‘live’ vaccine. This means it doesn’t contain whooping cough, and can’t cause whooping cough in you, or in your baby.
When should I have the whooping cough vaccine?
The best time to get vaccinated to protect your baby is between 28 and 38 weeks of pregnancy, with between 28 and 32 weeks the ideal time.
You can still have the vaccine after 38 weeks but this may not protect your baby from whooping cough, as your body might not have enough time to produce the antibodies before your baby is born. However, being vaccinated after 38 weeks will help protect you from whooping cough and from passing it on to your baby.
Will my baby still need to be vaccinated against whooping cough at two months if I’ve had the vaccine while pregnant?
Yes. Whenever you have the whooping cough vaccine, your baby will still need to be vaccinated according to the normal NHS vaccination schedule when they reach two months old. Babies are protected against whooping cough by the 5-in-1 vaccine.
Can I have the whooping cough vaccine at the same time as the flu jab?
Yes, you can have the whooping cough vaccine when you get the flu vaccine, but do not delay your flu jab so that you can have both at the same time.
How can I get the whooping cough vaccination?
You may be offered the vaccination at a routine antenatal appointment when you are between 28 and 38 weeks pregnant.
Or, talk to your midwife or GP and make an appointment to get vaccinated.
I was vaccinated against whooping cough as a child, do I need to get vaccinated again?
Yes, because any protection you may have had through either having whooping cough or being vaccinated when you were young is likely to have worn off.
How do I spot whooping cough in my baby?
Be alert to the signs and symptoms of whooping cough which include severe coughing fits which may be accompanied by difficulty breathing (or pauses in breathing in young infants) or vomiting after coughing and the characteristic ‘whoop’ sound.