Pertussis vaccine

Vaccine against whooping cough

Easy-to-read medicine information about pertussis vaccine – what it is, how to take it safely and possible side effects.

Type of medicine Also called
  • Vaccines
  • Combined vaccines
  • Infanrix-hexa® 
  • Infanrix-IPV®
  • Boostrix®

What is pertussis vaccine?

Pertussis vaccine offers protection against the bacterial infection pertussis (whooping cough). It works by causing the body to produce antibodies against the bacteria responsible for the pertussis infection and in this way protects (or provides immunity) against the disease.

Immunity to pertussis develops within 10 to 14 days of receiving the vaccine. However, the effectiveness of the vaccine lessens with time and protection can be expected to last between 5 to 10 years in children. 

If pertussis vaccination is administered after contracting a pertussis infection, the vaccination will be ineffective in preventing whooping cough. Read more about whooping cough.

Who should be immunised against pertussis?

Anyone can get whooping cough, but it causes the most severe, sometimes life-threatening, symptoms in babies, young children and elderly people.

Immunisation against pertussis is recommended at different ages and stages.

As part of the New Zealand childhood immunisation schedule, pertussis vaccine is offered free to: 

  • babies at 6 weeks, 3 months and 5 months of age
  • children 4 years and 11 years of age (booster doses)
  • pregnant women, in the later stages of pregnancy (28-36 weeks).

If you are pregnant, you can reduce the risk of your baby catching whooping cough by being immunised before, or just after, your baby is born. However, your baby still needs to be immunised on time, every time.

Immunisation is recommended but not funded for:

  • adults who live with, care for or work in regular contact with infants under 12 months of age, even if the baby has been fully immunised.
  • adults with weakened immune systems who are at high risk of severe illness or complications.

Pertussis-containing vaccines

To reduce the number of shots needed, pertussis vaccine is combined with other vaccines into a single injection. There are 3 pertussis-containing vaccines funded in New Zealand called Infanrix-hexa, Infanrix-IPV and Boostrix.

Infanrix-hexa

Is a combination vaccine that provides protection against pertussis and other infections including diphtheria, tetanus, hepatitis B, poliomyelitis and disease caused by Haemophilis influenza type B.

It is usually given to babies as part of the primary immunisation at 6 weeks, 3 months and 5 months of age. Infanrix-hexa can be given to children up to the age of 7 years. Babies are not well protected from whooping cough until they have had all 3 doses.

Delaying immunisation puts your baby at higher risk of catching whooping cough. About 84% of babies are fully protected once they have completed the first 3 doses of the vaccine.

Infanrix-IPV

Is also a combination vaccine that provides protection against pertussis and diphtheria, tetanus, and poliomyelitis. It is usually given to infants as part of the primary immunisation at 4 years of age. Infanrix-IPV can be given to children up to the age of 7 years.

Boostrix

Is also a combination vaccine that protects against pertussis, diphtheria, and tetanus. It is usually given to children over the age of 10 years and adults. To protect infants, vaccinations are recommended for adults who:

  • live with, care for or work in regular contact with infants under 12 months of age, even if the baby has been fully immunised
  • are pregnant, in later stages of pregnancy (28-36 weeks).

This vaccine is also recommended for adults with weakened immune systems who are at high risk of severe illness or complications. 

How are these vaccines given?

These vaccines are usually given intramuscularly (injected into the muscle) to the upper arm or thigh. However, if you are at high risk of bleeding, the vaccine may be given by deep subcutaneous injection (under the skin).  

Possible side effects

Like all medicines, vaccines can cause side effects, although not everyone gets them. 

Side effects What should I do?
  • Pain, swelling and redness at the injection site
  • This is quite common after having the vaccination.
  • It usually starts a few hours after getting the injection and settles within a few days.
  • For injection site swelling or pain, place a cold, wet cloth, or ice pack where the injection was given. Leave it on for a short time.
  • Do not rub the injection site.
  • Tell your doctor if troublesome.
  • Read more:
    After your child is immunised (babies and children)
    After your immunisation (teenagers and adults)
  • Mild fever
Babies and children
  • If your child is hot, it can help to undress them down to a single layer, for example, a singlet and nappies or pants. Make sure the room is not too hot or too cold.
  • Give paracetamol or ibuprofen only as advised by your doctor or nurse. Paracetamol may reduce the effectiveness of childhood vaccinations.
  • Read more: After your child is immunised 
Teenagers and adults
  • Rest and drink plenty of fluids
  • Because paracetamol or ibuprofen can interfere with your immune response to a vaccine, only take them for relief of significant discomfort or high fever.
  • Read more: After your immunisation 
  • Signs of an allergic reaction such as skin rash, itches, swelling of the face, lips, mouth or have problems breathing
  • Tell your doctor immediately or ring HealthLine 0800 611 116

Where can I get vaccinated?

The best place to go for vaccinations is your family medical clinic. They have your medical records and can check to see if you’ve already had a particular vaccination. Either your doctor or a nurse can give the vaccination.

If you don’t have a family doctor, you can go to one of the after-hour medical clinics. Ring them first to make sure they can help you with the vaccination you need.

You can find a clinic near you on the Healthpoint website. Put in your address and region, and under Select a service, click on GPs/Accident & Urgent Medical Care.

Vaccines on the National Immunisation Schedule are free. Other vaccines are funded only for people at particular risk of disease. You can choose to pay for vaccines that you are not eligible to receive for free.

Learn more

The following links have more information on pertussis-containing vaccines:

Medsafe Consumer Information

References

  1. Pertussis The Immunisation Advisory Centre
  2. Adacel The Immunisation Advisory Centre
  3. Boostrix The Immunisation Advisory Centre
  4. Infanrix-hexa The Immunisation Advisory Centre
  5. Infanrix-IPV The Immunisation Advisory Centre 
Credits: Sandra Ponen, Pharmacist. Reviewed By: Angela Lambie, Pharmacist, Auckland Last reviewed: 01 Apr 2019