Whooping Cough (Pertussis)

More than 200,000 children used to get whooping cough each year. Thanks to vaccines, that number has dropped significantly.

There are 2 vaccines that include protection against whooping cough:

  • The DTaP vaccine protects young children from diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough
  • The Tdap vaccine protects preteens, teens, and adults from tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough

Why are whooping cough vaccines important?

Whooping cough spreads very easily from person to person. Because it usually starts off like a cold, people who have whooping cough may not know they’re spreading it. And it can be deadly, especially for newborn babies.

Babies who get whooping cough can have dangerous complications, like pneumonia (lung infection), convulsions (uncontrolled shaking), and brain damage. That’s why it’s especially important for pregnant women to get vaccinated — and that people who spend time with babies are up to date on their whooping cough vaccine.

Getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent whooping cough.

What is whooping cough?

Whooping cough is caused by a kind of bacteria. It’s named for the “whoop” sound people can make after coughing fits. Learn what whooping cough sounds like.

The early symptoms of whooping cough include:

  • Runny nose
  • Mild cough
  • Low fever
  • Apnea (a pause in breathing) in babies

Whooping cough can last for up to 10 weeks or more. Later symptoms can include:

  • Long-lasting coughing fits followed by a high-pitched “whoop”
  • Throwing up during or after coughing fits
  • Feeling very tired after coughing fits
  • Turning blue from not getting enough oxygen

Complications from whooping cough can include incontinence (loss of bladder control) and broken ribs from coughing.

Whooping cough can spread when a person who has it:

  • Coughs or sneezes
  • Is close to other people, like when they’re holding a baby

Learn more about whooping cough.

Who needs to get whooping cough vaccines?

Whooping cough vaccines are recommended for babies, children, teens, adults, and pregnant women.

Infants and children birth through age 6

Young children need the DTaP vaccine as part of their routine vaccine schedule. Young children need a dose of the vaccine at:

  • 2 months
  • 4 months
  • 6 months
  • 15 through 18 months
  • 4 through 6 years

See the routine vaccination schedule for:

Preteens and teens ages 7 through 18

Older children need 1 booster shot of the Tdap vaccine at age 11 or 12 as part of their routine vaccine schedule.

If your child misses the booster shot, talk with your child’s doctor about scheduling a catch-up shot.

Adults age 19 and older

If you missed the Tdap booster as a teen, you’ll need to get a Tdap booster to make sure you have protection from whooping cough.

Pregnant women

Pregnant women need 1 booster shot of the Tdap vaccine during each pregnancy.

Talk with your doctor about how to protect your family from whooping cough.

Who should not get whooping cough vaccines?

You should not get a whooping cough vaccine if you:

  • Have a life-threatening allergy to any ingredient in the vaccine
  • Have had a serious reaction to the diphtheria, tetanus, or whooping cough vaccines in the past

Be sure to tell your doctor before getting vaccinated if you:

  • Have seizures (sudden, unusual movements or behavior) or other nervous system problems
  • Had serious pain or swelling after any diphtheria, tetanus, or whooping cough vaccine
  • Have had Guillain-Barré Syndrome (an immune system disorder)

If you’re sick, you may need to wait until you’re feeling better to get a whooping cough vaccine.

What are the side effects of whooping cough vaccines?

Side effects are usually mild and go away in a few days. They may include:

  • Pain, swelling, or redness where the shot was given
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Feeling tired or irritable
  • Upset stomach, throwing up, and diarrhea (watery poop)
  • Not feeling hungry
  • Fussing (in children)

It’s very rare, but the DTaP vaccine can also cause the following symptoms in children:

  • Seizures (about 1 child in 14,000)
  • Non-stop crying, for 3 hours or more (up to about 1 child in 1,000)
  • Fever higher than 105°F (about 1 child in 16,000)

Like any medicine, there's a very small chance that whooping cough vaccines could cause a serious reaction. Keep in mind that getting a whooping cough vaccine is much safer than getting whooping cough. Learn more about vaccine side effects.

Where can I get more information about the whooping cough vaccine?

Vaccine Information Statements (VISs) have detailed information about recommended vaccines. Read the VISs for vaccines that protect against whooping cough:

  • DTaP vaccine — protects against whooping cough, diphtheria, and tetanus (for infants and children)
  • Tdap vaccine — protects against whooping cough, diphtheria, and tetanus (for preteens, teens, and adults)

Find the VISs for these vaccines in other languages

Get vaccinated

Getting vaccinated is easy. Vaccines are available at the doctor’s office and many pharmacies — and most are covered by insurance.

Find out how to get vaccinated.

Content created by Office of Infectious Disease and HIV/AIDS Policy (OIDP)
Content last reviewed