Pertussis vaccine

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Pertussis vaccine
Pertussis vaccination is often administered via combination DPT vaccines
Vaccine description
Target diseaseBordetella pertussis
External links
Legal status
  • US: ℞-only
  • In general: ℞ (Prescription only)

Pertussis vaccine is a vaccine that protects against whooping cough (pertussis).[1][2] There are two main types: whole-cell vaccines and acellular vaccines.[1][2] The whole-cell vaccine is about 78% effective while the acellular vaccine is 71–85% effective.[1][3] The effectiveness of the vaccines appears to decrease by between 2 and 10% per year after vaccination with a more rapid decrease with the acellular vaccines.[1] Vaccinating the mother during pregnancy may protect the baby.[1] The vaccine is estimated to have saved over 500,000 lives in 2002.[4]

The World Health Organization and Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommend all children be vaccinated for pertussis and that it be included in routine vaccinations.[1][5] This includes for people who have HIV/AIDS.[1] Three doses starting at six weeks of age are typically recommended in young children.[1][2] Additional doses may be given to older children and adults.[1] The vaccine is only available in combination with tetanus and diphtheria vaccines.[1]

The acellular vaccines are more commonly used in the developed world due to fewer adverse effects.[1] Between 10 and 50% of people given the whole-cell vaccines develop redness at the injection site or fever.[1] Febrile seizures and long periods of crying occur in less than 1% of people.[1] With the acellular vaccines a brief period of non-serious swelling of the arm may occur.[1] Side effects with both types of vaccines, but especially the whole-cell vaccine, are less common the younger the child.[1] The whole-cell vaccines should not be used after seven years of age.[1] Serious long term neurological problems are not associated with either type.[1]

The pertussis vaccine was developed in 1926.[6] It is on the World Health Organization's List of Essential Medicines.[7] A version that also includes tetanus, diphtheria, polio, and Hib vaccine is available wholesale in the developing world at a cost of 15 USD per dose as of 2014.[8]

Medical uses

Acellular pertussis vaccine (aP) with three or more antigens prevents around 85% of typical whooping cough cases in children.[3] It has higher or similar efficacy to the previously-used whole cell pertussis vaccine, however the efficacy of the acellular vaccine declines faster.[3] Acellular vaccines also cause fewer side effects than whole cell vaccines.[3]

Despite widespread vaccination, pertussis has persisted in vaccinated populations and is one of the most common vaccine-preventable diseases.[9] The recent resurgence in pertussis infections is attributed to a combination of waning immunity and new mutations in the pathogen that existing vaccines are unable to effectively control.[9][10]

Some studies have suggested that while acellular pertussis vaccines are effective at preventing the disease, they have a limited impact on infection and transmission, meaning that vaccinated people could spread the disease even though they may have only mild symptoms or none at all.[11][12]


For children, immunizations are commonly given in combination with immunizations against tetanus, diphtheria, polio, and haemophilus influenzae type B at two, four, six, and 15–18 months of age.[13] A single later booster is given at four to six years of age (US schedule). In the UK, pertussis vaccinations are given at 2, 3, and 4 months, with a pre-school booster at 3 years 4 months.


In 2006 the CDC recommended adults receive pertussis vaccination along with the tetanus and diphtheria toxoid booster.[14] In 2011 they began recommended boosters during each pregnancy.[14] In the UK vaccination of pregnant women (between 28 and 38 weeks of pregnancy) is also recommended.[15]

The pertussis booster for adults is combined with a tetanus vaccine and diphtheria vaccine booster; this combination is abbreviated "Tdap" (Tetanus, diphtheria, acellular pertussis). It is similar to the childhood vaccine called "DTaP" (Diphtheria, Tetanus, acellular Pertussis), with the main difference that the adult version contains smaller amounts of the diphtheria and pertussis components—this is indicated in the name by the use of lower-case "d" and "p" for the adult vaccine. The lower-case "a" in each vaccine indicates that the pertussis component is acellular, or cell-free, which reduces the incidence of side effects. The pertussis component of the original DPT vaccine accounted for most of the minor local and systemic side effects in many vaccinated infants (such as mild fever or soreness at the injection site). The newer acellular vaccine, known as DTaP, has greatly reduced the incidence of adverse effects compared to the earlier "whole-cell" pertussis vaccine, however immunity wanes faster after the acellular vaccine than the whole-cell vaccine.[16][17]


The defined daily dose is not established.[18]

Side effects

Between 10% and 50% of people given the whole-cell vaccines develop redness, swelling, soreness or tenderness at the injection site and/or fever, less than 1% experience febrile seizures or long periods of crying, and less than 1 out of every 1,000 to 2,000 people vaccinated have a hypotonic-hyporesponsive episode.[1] The same reactions may occur after acellular vaccines, but are less common.[19] Side effects with both types of vaccines, but especially the whole-cell vaccine, are more likely the older the child.[1] The whole-cell vaccines should not be used after seven years of age.[1] According to the WHO serious long term neurological problems are not associated with either type.[1] The WHO says that the only contraindication to either whole cell or acellular pertussis vaccines is an anaphylactic reaction to a previous dose of pertussis vaccine,[1] while the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists encephalopathy not due to another identifiable cause occurring within seven days after a previous dose of pertussis vaccine as a contraindication and recommends those who have had seizures, have a known or suspected neurological disorder, or have had a neurologic event after a previous dose not be vaccinated until after treatment is initiated and the condition stabilized.[19] Only the acellular vaccine is used in the US.[19]

Modern formulations

As of 2018, there are four acellular DTaP/Tdap vaccines licensed for use in USA: Infanrix and Daptacel – for children, Boostrix and Adacel – for adolescents and adults.[19]

Composition of the pertussis component of selected vaccines[20]
Vaccine Producer Licensed for Pertussis toxin (PT), μg Filamentous hemagglutinin (FHA), μg Pertactin (PRN), μg Fimbriae (FIM), μg
Infanrix GlaxoSmithKline 6 weeks to 7 years 25 25 8
Boostrix GlaxoSmithKline older than 10 years 8 8 2.5
Daptacel Sanofi Pasteur 6 weeks to 7 years 10 5 3 5
Adacel Sanofi Pasteur 11 to 64 years 2.5 5 3 5


Pearl Kendrick and Grace Eldering studied pertussis in the 1930s.[21] They developed and ran the first large scale study of a successful vaccine for the disease.[21]

Pertussis vaccine is usually administered as a component of the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP/DTwP, DTaP and Tdap) vaccines. There are several types of diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccines. The first vaccine against pertussis was developed in the 1930s by pediatrician Leila Denmark. It included whole-cell killed Bordetella pertussis bacteria. Until the beginning of the 1990s it was used as a part of the DTwP vaccine for the immunization of children. It, however, contained pertussis endotoxin (surface lipooligosaccharide) and produced side effects.[22]

New acellular pertussis vaccines were developed in the 1980s, which included only a few selected pertussis antigens (toxins and adhesins).[22] Acellular vaccines are less likely to provoke side effects.[23] They became a part of DTaP vaccines for children.[22] In 2005, two new vaccine products were licensed for use in adolescents and adults that combine the tetanus and diphtheria toxoids with acellular pertussis vaccine.[24] These (Tdap) vaccines contain reduced amounts of pertussis antigens compared to DTaP vaccines.[20]


During the 1970s and 1980s, concerns occurred around whether the whole-cell pertussis component caused brain injury in rare cases, called pertussis vaccine encephalopathy. Despite this allegation, doctors recommended the vaccine due to the overwhelming public health benefit, as the rates were very low (one case per 310,000 immunizations, or about 50 cases out of the 15 million immunizations a year in the United States), and pertussis killed thousands of Americans each year before the vaccine was introduced.[25] No studies showed a direct connection, and later studies showed no connection of any type between the DPT vaccine and brain injury. The alleged vaccine damage proved to be an unrelated condition, infantile epilepsy.[26] In 1990, the Journal of the American Medical Association called the connection a "myth" and "nonsense".[27]

However, negative publicity caused immunization rates to fall in several countries, including the UK, Sweden, and Japan. A dramatic increase in rates of pertussis followed.[28]

In the United States, low profit margins and an increase in vaccine-related lawsuits led many manufacturers to stop producing the DPT vaccine by the early 1980s.[25] In 1982, the television documentary DPT: Vaccine Roulette by reporter Lea Thompson depicted the lives of children whose severe disabilities were incorrectly blamed on the DPT vaccine.[29] The ensuing negative publicity led to many lawsuits against vaccine manufacturers.[30] By 1985, vaccine manufacturers had difficulty obtaining liability insurance. The price of DPT vaccine increased significantly, leading providers to curtail purchases, limiting availability. Only one manufacturer remained in the US by the end of 1985. In response, Congress passed the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act (NCVIA) in 1986, establishing a federal no-fault system to compensate people injured by recommended vaccines.[31]

Concerns about side effects led Sato to introduce an even safer acellular vaccine in Japan in 1981, that was approved in the U.S. in 1992, for use in the combination DTaP vaccine. The acellular vaccine has a rate of side effects similar to that of a Td vaccine (a tetanus-diphtheria vaccine containing no pertussis vaccine).[32]


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