Whooping Cough Vaccines: Not Just for Kids

Medically Reviewed by Renee A. Alli, MD on February 07, 2021

Getting protected against whooping cough is important, and not only for children. There are lots of reasons teens and adults need to get vaccinated, too.

The whooping cough vaccine booster designed for teens and adults is called Tdap. Here's why it's important to get it:

Adults get whooping cough. You may think this disease, also known as pertussis, is something only children or babies get. But adults can get sick, too.

Adults pass whooping cough to babies. Although it's rarely deadly in teens or adults, you can pass it to a baby who didn't get the vaccine.

Whooping cough in babies can be a serious illness. It can cause breathing problems and pneumonia, and sometimes is deadly. Very young infants are especially at risk since the whooping cough vaccine isn't given to babies until they're 2 months old.

Protection from the childhood vaccine is short-lived. The childhood vaccine provides good but relatively short protection. Your immunity to whooping cough starts going away 5 to 10 years after your last childhood vaccine.

Even if you've had whooping cough, your immunity to the disease can wear off.

Tdap: The Whooping Cough Vaccine for Adults

The Tdap booster vaccine has been in use since 2005. It also helps protect against tetanus and diphtheria.

The CDC says adults and children ages 11 and up should get a Tdap booster shot.

Preteens and teens can get it instead of the usual tetanus booster that’s due around the same time.

Adults can get the Tdap at any time. If you had the tetanus booster not too long ago, though, check with your doctor. It may be better to wait a few years.

You should get a Tdap vaccine if you are pregnant, preferably between weeks 27 and 36 of your pregnancy. You should get the Tdap booster each time you're pregnant.

How to Recognize and Treat Whooping Cough

If you're not vaccinated against whooping cough or if you're overdue for a booster vaccine, you will be more likely to catch this illness. It's spread when someone who has it sneezes, sniffles, or coughs.

Early symptoms are like those of the common cold. After a week or so, you get a cough that may become severe and last for many weeks. If you gasp for air after a coughing fit, you may hear the telltale "whoop" sound. This is more common in kids than adults. Infants may have a persistent, staccato cough and then turn blue and even stop breathing. They do not typically make the "whoop" sound.

If you were immunized as a child, you will likely have a milder case. You might have light cold symptoms or none at all. The cough may be severe or just annoying. You may even spread whooping cough without ever knowing you have it.

Your doctor can check you for whooping cough with a simple nasal swab test. Whooping cough is caused by bacteria and should be treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics may ease your symptoms and prevent spread, especially if you take them during the first few weeks of the cough.

Show Sources


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

eMedicine: "Pertussis."

CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

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