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Whooping Cough Vaccine in Pregnancy Program

Whooping cough (pertussis) vaccination is recommended and free for pregnant women in the third trimester of pregnancy.

Those most at risk of complications and death from whooping cough are babies less than 6 months of age, particularly those less than 3 months of age. 

Delivering the whooping cough vaccine during pregnancy has been shown to be over 90% effective in preventing whooping cough disease in babies less than 3 months of age.

Vaccination is free and recommended with each pregnancy

About the program

The aim of the program is to promote free whooping cough immunisation in pregnant women in the third trimester.

Pregnant women can help protect their newborn and themselves by getting immunised during the third trimester resulting in protective maternal antibodies transferring through the placenta. This will provide the newborn baby with protection against whooping cough in the early weeks of life before routine childhood immunisations start. It also provides protection of the infant through the mother’s immunity in the post-natal period.

Babies are too young to be immunised against whooping cough before 6 weeks of age

People recommended to have the whooping cough vaccine

Eligible for the free vaccine

The free whooping cough vaccine is available in combination with diphtheria and tetanus (dTpa) and is called Adacel®.

Vaccination is recommended with each pregnancy to provide maximum protection to every infant; this includes pregnancies which are closely spaced (for example, less than 2 years).

If a woman has already received dTpa earlier in her pregnancy there is no need to repeat this in the third trimester, as there should be enough protection for the pregnancy.

Others recommended to get immunised

The dTpa vaccine is not free, but highly recommended for:

  • fathers, grandparents and other carers involved in the care of a young baby under 6 months of age
  • new parents if they haven’t recently received a whooping cough vaccine
  • any other adult or child who will have close contact

Some occupations are at an increased risk of catching or passing on whooping cough to others. Please refer to the Occupations at risk of vaccine preventable diseases page to see if you considered at risk.

Best time to receive the vaccine

Whooping cough antibody levels do not peak until approximately two weeks after vaccination and active transport of maternal antibodies to the foetus occurs predominantly from 30 weeks gestation onwards.

The best time for vaccination is between 28 and 32 weeks gestation.

The dTpa vaccine can be given at any time during the third trimester, though if delivery is unexpectedly early the full benefit may not be achieved for the newborn if it is given late in pregnancy.

How safe is the whooping cough vaccine during pregnancy

Studies have found no evidence of any increased risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes (such as stillbirth, pre-eclampsia, fetal distress, low birth weight or neonatal renal failure) related to whooping cough vaccination during the third trimester of pregnancy.

While dTpa vaccine is generally safe and well-tolerated in adults, there is a small risk that significant injection site reactions following repeated doses might occur in some women who receive dTpa vaccines during successive closely spaced pregnancies. This low risk is considered to be balanced by the benefit of protection against whooping cough to each newborn.

Accessing the vaccine

To receive the free pertussis vaccine, speak to your doctor or midwife. Some local councils and community health centers may also offer the vaccine. For further information on immunisation providers, see the Immunisation services page.

Further information

For further information on Whooping Cough Vaccine in Pregnancy Program contact your local doctor, immunisation provider or SA Health's Immunisation Section.

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