The Tdap Vaccine: Frequently Asked Questions

Please note: this post was originally posted on January 8, 2013. It has been updated with new guidelines on May 28, 2013.

If you are currently pregnant, Virginia Women’s Center recommends you receive the Tdap vaccine. The Tdap vaccine can help prevent pertussis, also called whooping cough.

If you are currently pregnant, your health care provider will offer you the Tdap vaccine at an appointment at or beyond 28 weeks gestation. Even if you have received the Tdap vaccine before, it is recommended you receive it during each pregnancy so that the antibodies can be transferred to the infant.

What is pertussis?

VaccinePertussis, also called whooping cough, is a highly contagious disease that causes severe coughing. People with pertussis may make a “whooping” sound when they try to breathe. In newborns, pertussis can be a life-threatening illness. It can be prevented with a vaccine called Tdap.

Who should receive a Tdap vaccine?

  • Women who are pregnant should receive it at or beyond 28 weeks gestation in each pregnancy. The Tdap vaccine will protect the mother and baby from serious illness and the complications of pertussis.
  • Women who did not receive the vaccine during pregnancy and have never received it before should receive it immediately after the baby is born.
  • Women who are breastfeeding and who did not receive the vaccine during pregnancy, immediately postpartum or ever before, should receive it as soon as possible. Patients with an unknown or uncertain Tdap vaccination status are considered unvaccinated and are therefore eligible to receive the vaccine.
  • Family members and/or caregivers of newborns who have never received a Tdap vaccine should receive it at least two weeks prior to having contact with a baby.

What are the risks of pertussis in infants?

In 2010, 27,550 cases of pertussis were reported in the United States; 3,350 of those cases were in infants younger than 6 months of age – 25 of those infants died. Studies have shown that when the source of pertussis was identified, 30 to 40 percent of infant infections occurred because the disease was transmitted from mother to infant.

Pertussis can cause serious and sometimes life-threatening complications in infants, especially within the first six months of life. In infants younger than one year of age who get pertussis, more than half must be hospitalized. The younger the infant, the more likely treatment in the hospital will be needed. Of those infants who are hospitalized with pertussis, about one in five will get pneumonia and one in 100 will die.

How can pertussis be prevented in infants?

There are currently no pertussis vaccines licensed or recommended for newborns at birth. The best way to prevent pertussis in a young infant is by vaccinating the mother during pregnancy. When a mother is vaccinated with Tdap during pregnancy, her infant will gain pertussis antibodies during the most vulnerable time – before three months of age. Infants are able to be vaccinated against pertussis at two months of age.