Important: This is intended as general information only. It may not apply to your specific situation. It is not a substitute for medical advice. If you have a question or concern, please raise it with me at your next appointment or contact me sooner if it's urgent.
Whooping Cough Vaccination in Pregnancy
In Australia it is recommended that all pregnant women should have a Whooping Cough (or Pertussis) vaccination in the third trimester of pregnancy, even if they have had a vaccination previously.
Whooping cough is caused by a bacteria, Bordatella Pertussis and is spread by coughing and sneezing. It causes a prolonged illness with severe bouts of coughing which may be followed by vomiting or a sharp intake of air (the ‘whoop’). Whooping cough is highly infectious. People with whooping cough are most infectious in the early stages of the illness when their symptoms are mild and the diagnosis might not be obvious. They can remain infectious for several weeks. Complications of infection include pneumonia, brain damage and death.
Why should I get vaccinated in pregnancy?
Whooping cough is most severe in very young babies who do not have any immunity. Babies are at greatest risk of the serious complications of Whooping Cough including brain damage or dying from the infection, even if they are being treated. If you were to catch Whooping Cough around or just after the time of your baby’s birth, there is a high chance you could pass the infection on the your baby. The main purpose of the vaccine is to reduce the possibility of you catching Whooping Cough and passing it on to your baby. In addition, you can pass on some of your immunity to the baby for the first few weeks of his or her life. Antibodies in your bloodstream cross the placenta and enter the baby's bloodstream and will give the baby some protection. These antibodies only last a few weeks in the baby's bloodstream but are very important for those first few weeks.
The whooping cough vaccination available in Australia (Boostrix) also provides immunisation against Diptheria and Tetanus.
Immunity to Whooping cough develops about two weeks after the vaccination is given. For this reason, it is best to get the vaccination by the time you are 36 weeks pregnant so that there is time for your immunity to develop before your baby is born. It is no longer recommended that you wait until after delivery to have the vaccination.
Is the vaccine safe in pregnancy?
Yes. The vaccine does not contain any live bacteria so it is not possible to catch whooping cough from the vaccine. There are no known complications of Whooping Cough vaccination for your baby.
All medications can cause side effects. The most commonly seen side effects of Whooping Cough vaccination are redness and pain at the injection site. Occasionally, people who have been vaccinated may develop a lowgrade fever.
It is possible to have an allergic reaction to this vaccination (as with any other medication) but this is extremely rare.
Contrary to what you may read on the internet, vaccinations do not cause autism.
Do I need to get vaccinated even if I have had the vaccination before?
Yes. This recommendation has recently changed. The vaccine works well – about 88% of the people who are vaccinated become immune. However, this still leaves 12% of people who do not develop immunity after vaccination. You should have a repeat vaccination in case you are in this small group. Also, even if you are immune, a 'booster' vaccination will boost your antibody levels. More antibodies in your blood will mean more antibodies crossing the placenta to the baby. These antibodies don't last very long in the baby's bloodstream - just a few weeks - but, importantly, they will give the baby some extra protection for those first few weeks of his or her life when he or she is most vulnerable.
Do I need the vaccination even if I’m planning to breastfeed?
Yes. Breastfeeding has lots of benefits but does not protect your baby against Whooping Cough.
If I have been vaccinated, does my child still need the vaccination?
Yes. Although the vaccine may provide some temporary immunity for your baby, it is not sufficient to protect him or her in the longer term. You should attend you GP or local vaccination clinic to get your baby vaccinated as soon as he or she is six weeks old.
What other precautions can we take?
Your partner, other family members (including grandparents) and anyone else involved in the care of your baby should also be vaccinated if they have not received a vaccination in the last five years. It is important that any older siblings are up to date with all their vaccinations.
Anyone who is sick should stay away from your baby, especially in the first few weeks.
It’s probably best to wait until after your baby’s first set of vaccinations before travelling as airports and planes are a potential source of infection.
Where can we get the vaccination?
In Australia, Medicare will cover the cost of the vaccination for pregnant women and their partners if you see your GP. If you prefer, I can give you the vaccination in the third trimester of pregnancy although, when done this way, the cost of the vaccine is not covered by Medicare. Your partner and other family members should see their local GP for vaccination.