Whooping Cough Vaccine: FAQ

Medically Reviewed by Amita Shroff, MD on June 21, 2022

Whooping cough, or pertussis, can be spread when an infected person sneezes or coughs. Most often, it spreads among family members and other people in the house, like babysitters.

You can prevent whooping cough in your young child with the DTaP vaccine. The vaccine also protects against tetanus and diphtheria.

How easy is it to catch whooping cough?

Whooping cough is very easy to catch. If a person in your household has it and you did not get the vaccine, you have up to a 90% chance of catching it.

Can you catch whooping cough if you've already had the vaccine?

Unlike some vaccines, the whooping cough vaccine may not protect you against the disease for life. You may become less immune 5 to10 years after your last childhood vaccine.

Can you carry the whooping cough bacteria without knowing it?

You likely can't carry or spread whooping cough if you don't have any symptoms. If you've gotten the vaccine, though, you could have symptoms that are mild and still be infectious. You may have cold symptoms first and later a cough.

How many doses of the DTaP vaccine does a child need?

Your child will get a series of shots at these ages:

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

How well does the DTaP vaccine work?

After the third dose -- given at age 6 months -- your child will be 80% to 85% immune to whooping cough for 3 to 5 years.

Is a booster shot needed after the DTaP shots are completed?

Everyone -- including adults -- from age 11 up should receive a booster vaccine, called Tdap. It's a combined tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis booster vaccine.

If you are pregnant, you should also get the vaccine, preferably between weeks 27 and 36. You need to get the vaccine each time you are pregnant.

What are the risks of DTaP and Tdap?

The risks of DTaP, Tdap, and other common vaccines are low. The most common side effect is redness or soreness on the part of the body where you got the shot. You may feel out of sorts or have a low-grade fever for 24 hours after the injection.

Allergic reactions to vaccines can be serious, but they are rare. The risk to your health from getting tetanus, diphtheria, or pertussis is higher than the risk of a reaction to the vaccines.

Can you prevent whooping cough by washing your hands and staying away from sick people?

Washing your hands often and covering coughs and sneezes may keep whooping cough from spreading. But getting the vaccine (in childhood and again as a teen or adult) is the best way to prevent it.

Show Sources


CDC: "Vaccines and Immunizations." 

CDC: "Diphtheria, Tetanus and Pertussis Vaccines: What You Need to Know."

eMedicine: "Pertussis."

CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

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