- Killed, no longer reproducible pathogens or
- selected components of the pathogen and/or
- rendered harmless toxins (toxins) of the pathogen.
The whooping cough vaccine contains selected parts of the bacterium Bordetella pertussis and its toxins rendered harmless. After vaccination, the immune system recognizes the components of the vaccine as foreign and forms antibodies against them: From now on, the body is protected against infections with the bacterium.
Good to know
While live vaccines are not permitted for pregnant women for reasons of precaution, the whooping cough vaccination – like other vaccinations with inactivated vaccines – is also possible during pregnancy.
In Germany there are no longer any individual vaccines against whooping cough. The vaccination is therefore always carried out with a combination vaccine that protects against several diseases at the same time. Are available:
- Triple vaccines against tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough
- Quadruple vaccines against tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough and polio (polio)
- Quintuple vaccines against tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough, polio and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)
- Sixfold vaccine against tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough, polio, Haemophilus influenzae type b and hepatitis B
Even those who are already well protected against one or more pathogens in the combination vaccine can easily be vaccinated against whooping cough. Combination vaccinations even have advantages: They are at least as well tolerated as vaccinations with individual vaccines, but with fewer pikes.
Whooping cough vaccination: how often?
Vaccination is not enough to provide the best possible protection against whooping cough. How often the vaccination should be repeated in the course of life depends on the individual circumstances – for example on whether there are close contacts with newborns or whether the risk of infection is increased at work.
Primary immunization and boosters for everyone
The Standing Committee on Vaccination (STIKO) recommends basic immunization against whooping cough (with three to four vaccinations) and a total of three booster vaccinations (two in childhood and one in adulthood) to all people, regardless of individual risk factors:
- For primary immunization, children ideally get a whooping cough vaccination (usually with a sixfold vaccine) at the age of 2, 4 and 11 months.
- Premature babies receive an additional vaccination at the age of 3 months for the primary immunization, i.e. a total of four vaccine doses.
- The first two booster doses are ideally given between the ages of 5 and 6 years (usually with a quadruple vaccine) and between the ages of 9 and 16 (usually with a quintuple vaccine).
- The third booster dose recommended in adulthood (a triple or quadruple vaccine) is given 10 years after the last vaccination against tetanus and diphtheria.
If there is no or incomplete basic immunization or if the vaccination status is unclear, the STIKO urgently advises immunization against whooping cough. Children up to the age of 10 receive three vaccinations. For everyone else, on the other hand, one dose of vaccination is enough, because most people have already had contact with Bordetella pertussis and were therefore able to build up a certain level of immune protection.
Additional vaccinations for certain people
In addition, STIKO recommends a single whooping cough vaccination as a so-called indication vaccination for all pregnant women – regardless of how long ago their last vaccination was – as well as for people who have close contact with newborns and whose last vaccination was at least 10 years ago:
- The best time for the indication vaccination during pregnancy is between the 28th and 32nd week of pregnancy. If there is an increased risk of premature birth, the whooping cough vaccination should be brought forward to the second trimester of pregnancy.
- Women who have not received a whooping cough vaccine during pregnancy should be vaccinated as soon as possible after the birth of their child.
- Close contacts of babies (such as parents, siblings, friends, childminders, babysitters or grandparents) are best vaccinated no later than four weeks before the birth date. If you miss this point in time, you should definitely catch up on the vaccination.
These indication vaccinations serve above all to protect children who cannot yet be vaccinated. For example, the whooping cough vaccine given to the mother a few weeks before the birth temporarily gives the child certain defenses, since the mother’s antibodies against the bacterium Bordetella pertussis are transmitted to the child via the placenta: experts refer to this as nest protection.
On the other hand, occupational vaccinations against whooping cough are intended to protect the vaccinated themselves and their contact persons alike. STIKO recommends these additional vaccinations to all people who work in the health service and in community facilities at least ten years apart.
Whooping Cough Vaccination: Why the Booster?
Some vaccinations – especially those with live vaccines – do not require boosters: For example, anyone who has received the basic immunization against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) is usually well protected for life. It’s different with the whooping cough vaccination: without booster, the immune protection obtained through the inactivated vaccine is lost over time.
Anyone who has been infected with the bacterium Bordetella pertussis is also only temporarily immune to whooping cough for about 10 to 20 years. A booster is therefore also useful after an illness: It strengthens the immune reaction, which decreases over time, which is why it is also called a booster vaccination.