I am hearing a lot about whooping cough. Should I be getting vaccinated?

Infectious Diseases Vaccines

Are you hearing about cases of whooping cough (i.e., pertussis) in your community? We are, too. In fact, there are cases in all three of this Nerdy Girl’s kids’ schools right now (ack!). This is a great time to make sure you and your family are up-to-date on this vaccine.

🟣 What is whooping cough? 🟣

Whooping cough is another name for pertussis which is caused by infection with the bacteria Bordetella pertussis. It causes respiratory symptoms which can include difficulty breathing and a cough that makes a high-pitched “whoop” sound. It is very contagious (for up to several weeks). It is also particularly dangerous for newborns (can cause life-threatening pauses in breathing and cyanosis-i.e., skin turning blue) who cannot be vaccinated. About 1 in 3 newborns with whooping cough are hospitalized and about 1 in 10 who are hospitalized die. Thankfully, staying up-to-date with the pertussis vaccine can help prevent you from developing whooping cough, which in turn prevents you from spreading it to others who are not yet fully vaccinated.

🟣 When should people get a whooping cough vaccine? 🟣

There are several key time points when people should get vaccinated:

➡️ Young children get a series of 5 shots (called Dtap vaccine) starting at 2 months of age and finishing between the ages of 4-6 years.

➡️ Adolescents should get one shot of a vaccine called Tdap when they’re 11 or 12 years old, which covers three diseases: tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis.

➡️ Adults should get a dose of Tdap every 10 years. If you have never had this vaccine, or aren’t sure, go get it now!

➡️ Pregnant people should also get Tdap during *each* pregnancy between gestational week 27 and 35. This protects the baby in the weeks just after birth, when they are very vulnerable. In this case, it doesn’t matter if your last dose was less than 10 years ago.

➡️ People who had a tetanus booster (aka Td booster) within the last 10 years but never had the Tdap vaccine, should get Tdap now. Do this *especially* if you ever spend any amount of time around newborns. It’s really important. Due to an increase in pertussis cases over the last couple of decades, Tdap is now recommended instead of tetanus boosters (aka Td boosters).

➡️ New grandparents or anyone who spends any time around newborns, should make sure they are up-to-date on their Tdap shot.

Graphic source

Re-upping your protection against pertussis at these points is important, as vaccine effectiveness wanes substantially over time. High rates of vaccination against pertussis in a community can also serve to lower the chances newborns and young children get exposed before they have the chance to get fully vaccinated.

Check your pertussis vaccination status with your clinician or your state vaccine registry (a link to your state registry is usually available on your state or local health department website) and get a shot if you are due! People can get a Tdap shot at their local pharmacy or clinical office.

This post was adapted from one originally written by Dr. Malia Jones in September, 2022. You can find additional information about pertussis and the pertussis vaccine there.

Link to Original Substack Post