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Preventive Health



Outline of this important vaccine



  • The pertussis vaccine protects against whooping cough
  • It is normally given as one injection which also protects against diphtheria and tetanus,.
  • The pertussis vaccine is probably the most controversial because of reports about adverse reactions
  • There is a newer acellular vaccine which reportedly has fewer side effects and is now part of the New-Zealand schedule
  • The vaccine is given at six weeks, three months and five months .

What is it?

The pertussis vaccine protects against whooping cough.

It is probably the most controversial vaccine because of reports of adverse reactions.

 A newer vaccine has been developed. This acellular vaccine (aP) contains only small parts of the pertussis bacteria instead of whole bacteria, and children receiving this vaccine have fewer side effects. This is now part of the standard childhood schedule in New Zealand.

Whooping cough is a dangerous illness for babies and can cause death.

The disease is highly contagious and New Zealand experiences epidemics of whooping cough every three to five years. There have been two deaths since 1980. Under one year olds have a one in 200 risk of dying from whooping cough, but most will only get bad coughing fits.

What are the side effects?

There is a high rate of adverse reactions following the pertussis vaccine, but most only involve fever and grizzliness. Studies have shown all children recover from any side effects.

In the 1970s media reports suggested that the pertussis vaccine could cause brain damage. However, most studies have found no link. If there is a link it is only one in a million.

Here is the following rate of adverse reactions 48 hours following immunization with the newer acellular pertussis vaccine(aP):

  • Redness at injection site: 1 to 8 percent
  • local tenderness or pain at site: 1 to 13 percent
  • Temperature with fever over 38 deg C :1 to 7 percent
  • Drowsiness :20 to 48 percent
  • Fretfulness: 53 percent
  • Loss of appetite: 21 percent
  • Vomiting: 7 to 21 percent
  • Persistent crying> 3 hours: 0,1 percent
  • Convulsions: 0.06 percent
  • Collapse with shock-like state (all children fully recovered): 0.06 percent

When is the vaccine given?

It is recommended that children have the aP vaccine at six weeks, three months and  5 months .

 A few children should not have the vaccine. These include those with poorly controlled epilepsy, other neurological problems or those who suffered a severe reaction to a previous pertussis vaccine.

Children who have already had whooping cough do not need the vaccine. The immunization is not normally given to those over the age of seven because whooping cough is a milder illness in older children.

Where to get more information:

Your doctor, practice nurse or plunket nurse will be able to help.

The Immunisation Advisory Centre, Auckland. Ph 0800 IMMUNE (0800 466 863)

 *This information was provided by the New Zealand Immunisation Advisory Centre.


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