Pertussis Vaccine: What Is It For? When and why to do it?

pertussis is the vaccine for mainly pediatric use that serves to prevent whooping cough.


Mandatory for all newborns, the pertussis vaccine is commercially available only in vaccine formulations that include other vaccines (eg: anti diphtheria, anti tetanus, anti poliomyelitis, etc.); therefore, there is no single formula anti-pertussis vaccine.
For newborns, the administration of the pertussis vaccine provides for 3 dosages to be carried out at well-defined time intervals, preferably within the year of life, followed by periodic boosters that will continue into adulthood.
An example of a vaccine with purified antigens, the pertussis vaccine is a drug with reduced adverse effects (the most common are minor clinical disturbances) and effective.

contagious with bacterial origin.

Currently, the pertussis vaccine is subject to the vaccination obligation established in the summer of 2017; consequently, it is mandatory for all newborns.

What is whooping cough: a brief review


Whooping cough (or whooping cough) is a highly contagious acute infectious disease caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis, which affects the airways and sometimes the lungs.

Before the advent of mass vaccinations, whooping cough represented, together with measles, rubella, mumps, chicken pox, etc., a "typical infection of childhood"; in particular, it mainly affected subjects under the age of 10 years.

Whooping cough is transmitted exclusively directly, through saliva or volatile droplets emitted when sneezing, coughing, etc.

Characterized by an average incubation period of 9-10 days and after an onset of mild symptoms, pertussis causes intense and persistent coughing attacks for about 10 weeks, which can result in retching and even difficulty breathing.
After the intense and persistent cough phase, whooping cough can be considered in the resolution phase.

Since when does the pertussis vaccine exist?

The creation of the first pertussis vaccine dates back to the 1930s, and much of the credit for this development goes to the American pediatrician Leila Alice Denmark.

Since then, the pertussis vaccine has undergone several refinements, which have made it a safe and highly effective drug.

, bacterial pneumonia, encephalopathy, epilepsy, hypoxia due to respiratory distress, subdural hematoma and pneumothorax.
  • In a country like the United States, before the advent of the vaccine, some 200,000 individuals fell ill annually with whooping cough.
    In the years following the first availability of a large-scale vaccine, the incidence of pertussis decreased by a good 80%, confirming the efficacy and advantages of the pertussis vaccination;
  • During the twentieth century, in the most developed countries of the world (eg the United States), whooping cough represented, until the advent of the vaccine, one of the main causes of death among children.
  • In developing countries, where vaccination campaigns are not yet at the forefront, pertussis continues to be an important health problem: in 2008, for example, in these countries, it was associated with around 195,000 deaths (estimate of "WHO).
  • Why Get Vaccinated Against Whooping Cough in Pregnancy?

    According to data from the US health organization CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), 70-80% of deaths from pertussis concern newborns in the very first months of life; this happens mainly because, as will be seen later, the first dose of pertussis vaccine can only be administered from the 61st day of life (beginning of the third month).

    In light of this, in recent years, an anti-pertussis vaccination campaign in pregnant women has begun, in order to protect future unborn children during that short period of time in which the latter cannot yet be vaccinated; the pregnant woman who receives the pertussis vaccine, in fact, it produces protective antibodies against Bordetella pertussis that she shares with her baby through the umbilical cord, before birth, and through her mother's milk, after birth.

    Completely free of dangers for the fetus, the pertussis vaccine performed during pregnancy is a recommended vaccination but not mandatory (there is therefore freedom of choice in this regard); it is important to specify that the recommendation for this vaccine is valid even if the mother has already vaccinated in the past against pertussis (a new vaccination, in fact, renews the antibody patrimony destined for the child).

    To learn more about vaccines recommended and practicable in pregnancy, we recommend reading the article here.

    Which adults need to get vaccinated against whooping cough?

    It is advisable to vaccinate against pertussis in adulthood when more than 10 years have passed since the last recall and:

    • You are traveling to a country where pertussis is endemic


    • He is constantly in contact with small children and pregnant women.

    When is the Pertussis Vaccine not needed?

    Individuals who have been vaccinated for less than 10 years and all those who have contracted whooping cough in the past do not need the pertussis vaccine.

    Pregnant women who have already been vaccinated represent an "exception: as previously analyzed, in such situations, the pertussis vaccine is not so much needed by the mother as it is for the future unborn child.

    whole (this old preparation contained a portion of bacterium Bordetella pertussis killed by heat).

    The pertussis vaccine falls into the category of purified antigen vaccines.
    This type of vaccine consists of antigens (proteins, toxins, etc.) inactivated and not dangerous, but still capable of eliciting an immune response.

    Types of Pertussis Vaccine

    Currently, the pertussis vaccine is available:

    • In the trivalent vaccine formulation DTPa.
    • In the tetravalent vaccine formulation DTPaIPV.
    • In the dTpa trivalent vaccine formulation.
    • In the vaccine formulation known as the hexavalent vaccine.

    The pertussis vaccine is not available in a single formula.

    DTPa vaccine

    The DTPa vaccine contains the diphtheria vaccine, the tetanus vaccine and the pertussis vaccine.

    This vaccine formulation is for pediatric use only: it is, in fact, the version typically used until before the 14th year of life.

    DTPaIPV vaccine

    The DTPaIPV vaccine is the DTPa vaccine described above combined with the polio vaccine (which is an inactivated vaccine).

    This vaccine formulation is intended for pediatric boosters and represents an "alternative to DTPa and IPV vaccines (polio vaccine) administered in single formula.

    DTpa vaccine

    The dTpa vaccine contains the same vaccine preparations as DTPa (i.e. anti-diphtheria, anti-tetanus and anti-pertussis), but in reduced quantities for the anti-diphtheria vaccine and the anti-pertussis vaccine.

    The use of the dTpa vaccine is restricted to adolescents aged 14 and over and adults.

    Hexavalent vaccine

    The hexavalent vaccine groups in a single vaccine preparation vaccinations against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, poliomyelitis, hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenzae type B.

    This vaccine is only used among children within 12 months of life; clearly, up to this age, it represents an "alternative to the DTPa vaccine.

    to produce specific antibodies.

    In immunology, any foreign substance capable of triggering the immune system is called an antigen.
    In the case of vaccines with purified antigens, the antigens are essentially fragments of the infectious agent against which the immunization is to be obtained, deprived, in the laboratory, of the ability to cause the related infection (NB: this is true provided that the subject is a healthy person, without immune deficiencies).

    Antibodies, on the other hand, are proteins that the immune system of the human organism produces whenever it comes into contact with an antigen and which serve to neutralize the latter in the immediate and also in the future, should a second exposure to the same antigen occur.

    Thanks to the pertussis vaccine, therefore, antibodies are created against it Bordetella pertussis, exploiting parts of the latter sufficient to stimulate the immune system, but not as sufficient to cause the associated infectious disease.

    In children up to 1 year of age, the injection site is the upper-latero region of the thigh; in older children, adolescents and adults, however, it is on the upper arm.

    Can the Pertussis Vaccine be administered together with other Vaccines?

    Scientific studies have shown that the pertussis vaccine interacts with other vaccine preparations; this means that it can be administered together with other vaccines.

    However, it should be noted that, most of the time, the adverse effects found are minor clinical disturbances and that the most serious adverse effects are a real rarity.

    We must not forget that the risk associated with any type of vaccine, including that against pertussis, is decidedly lower than the risk behind the infection against which immunization is to be obtained.

    So, in essence, the pertussis vaccine can be considered a safe and convenient drug in terms of risk / benefit ratio.

    Did you know that ...

    Vaccines are drugs that have passed all full-scale security checks.
    The various theories according to which they contained substances dangerous for the human being have been, over time, the subject of appropriate scientific studies, which have amply demonstrated their groundlessness.

    What are the Adverse Effects of Pertussis Vaccine?

    Common adverse effects of the pertussis vaccine are:

    • Pain, swelling and soreness at the injection site (between 20 and 40% of recipients);
    • Headache;
    • Redness at the injection site;
    • Tiredness;
    • Gastrointestinal problems
    • Fever above 38 degrees;
    • Irritability and decreased appetite;
    • Somnolence and sleep disturbances.

    Rare, if not very rare, adverse effects of the pertussis vaccine are:

    • Allergic reaction to a substance contained in the vaccine;
    • Collapse;
    • Febrile seizures.

    How to recognize allergic reactions to pertussis vaccine?

    Any allergic reactions to the pertussis vaccine occur within minutes of vaccination (which is why parents, after administering the preparation, are asked to stay another 20-30 minutes at the vaccine center) and include symptoms and signs such as: hives, breathing difficulties , swelling of the face, tachycardia and / or paleness.

    After the pertussis vaccine, in the presence of symptoms or signs of an allergic reaction, it is good to contact a doctor immediately or go to the nearest hospital.

    (eg: epilepsy, encephalopathy, etc.) or who have experienced, in the recent past, convulsions with or without fever.

    When to postpone the Pertussis Vaccine?

    The pertussis vaccine is a practice to be postponed to another date in the presence of a condition characterized by fever or general disturbances that the treating physician considers clinically important.

    On the other hand, there is no need to postpone it if the recipient candidate has a common cold (however, it is still a good idea to inform the doctor of the present situation).

    Antonio Griguolo

    Graduated in Biomolecular and Cellular Sciences, he obtained a Specialized Master in Journalism and Institutional Communication of Science
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