Healthy Living

Does the Pertussis Vaccine Have Any Contraindications and Side Effects?

Are there any contraindications and side effects for the pertussis vaccine?

Key Takeaways

  • When it comes to infants and toddlers, pertussis complications can be fatal. 
  • Vaccination for pertussis has some mild side effects, but they usually do not affect your child's overall wellness.
  • If your child has fever, the flu, or an infectious disease and has not completely recovered from it, you should delay vaccination until your child has fully recovered.
  • If you have opted to not have your child vaccinated against pertussis or are considering it, you should be aware of the fact that the complications of pertussis outweigh the possible side effects of the immunization.

Pertussis is an infection of the upper respiratory system. The disease is highly contagious and spreads through the coughing and sneezing of an infected individual. This highly contagious and airborne disease is caused by the bacteria called Bordetella pertussis. The symptoms of pertussis typically include a severe cough, runny nose, mild fever, and diarrhea. The infection usually lasts for six to ten days.

Under what circumstances should I avoid having my baby vaccinated against whooping cough? 

Your baby should not be vaccinated for pertussis in the following circumstances:

  • If your baby is under 2 months old.
  • If your child has had a previous allergic reaction to any type of vaccination. In this case, it is best to proceed only after determining the nature and cause of the previous allergic reaction and confirming that the pertussis vaccination will not cause any problems.
  • If your baby is undergoing chemotherapy for cancer or vasculitis (leukemia and lupus). Your child's immune system is significantly affected by chemotherapy and may not benefit from immunization.
  • If your child is being given a high dose of corticosteroids. You should postpone the vaccination until after the treatment. A corticosteroid treatment puts a strain on the immune system of your child, lowering its ability to counter infections.
  • If your child is frequently having acute asthma attacks (attacks of coughing with bronchial spasms due to asthma).
  • If your child has HIV and is currently moderately or severely ill. However, if your child is well despite having HIV, it is recommended that you follow the standard immunization schedule for pertussis. Inactivated vaccine is used for pertussis and thus unlikely to pose significant risk to the child who is infected with HIV. 
  • If your child has just undergone a transplantation surgery.
  • If your child has fever, the flu, or an infectious disease and has not completely recovered from it. It is recommended that you delay vaccination until your child has fully recovered to avoid complications.
  • If your child has recently had a head injury causing intracranial bleeding.
  • If your child is weak and tends to develop different allergic reactions.

Does vaccination for pertussis come with side effects?

Vaccination for pertussis has some mild side effects, but they usually do not affect your child's overall wellness.

  • Pain and redness at the site of the injection - This is a mild reaction and commonly observed in almost all kinds of injections. It is best to have your baby's shots done by a trained health care provider at a recognized hospital.
  • A mild fever and headache - However, if your baby had fever or flu-like symptoms even before the vaccination, it is difficult to determine the cause of fever after vaccination. Therefore, it is advisable to delay vaccination until the fever or flu subsides.
  • Weakness or fatigue - Your baby may feel fatigued or tired due to his or her body’s struggle to produce the necessary antibodies.
  • Gastrointestinal problems - In the case of nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea with stomach cramps, you should consult your child's doctor right away. Chills, body aches, and swollen joints and lymph nodes should be reported at the earliest time. These signs and symptoms may be an indication that your child is developing an adverse reaction to the immunization. However, cases of individual intolerance to the shots are rare.

As with all vaccinations, you must check the expiry date of the vaccine. You should also confirm that the vaccine had been properly stored and transported, as incorrect handling can affect the efficacy of vaccines. 

If my child has whooping cough, what is the duration of exclusion from daycare or school? 

Your child should not be sent to his or her daycare center or school for a period of 21 days after the onset of pertussis. If your child had close contact with an infected person and has been prescribed antibacterial therapy for five days, then he or she should be excluded from school or childcare facilities for that period, until the entire antibiotic course is completed. 

Disease Prevention 

Pertussis or whooping cough is highly contagious. If anyone in your family contracts the disease, he or she should be isolated to prevent the transmission of the infection to others. Masks covering the nose and mouth can be effective as they act as a physical barrier against the infection. Avoid close contact with the infected person and do not share personal items and toiletries with them. Most of all, ensure that all the members of your family are vaccinated. Wash your hands frequently to avoid contracting the infection. 

These measures to prevent infection and control its spread of do not, however, guarantee 100 percent protection against the disease. Whoever is attending to the infected individual needs to follow all precautionary measures to avoid passing on the infection to others.

Infants and young children who have whooping cough may have to be hospitalized due to the risk of complications.

A child who did not receive the three prescribed vaccination shots before the age of six months and has been exposed to the disease should stay away from other children for 14 days, in case he or she develops an infection. However, if the child has completed the five-day antibiotic therapy, he or she may return to school or the daycare center.

What if I were to refuse to have my child vaccinated against pertussis?

If you considering not having your child vaccinated against pertussis, you should be aware of the fact that the complications of pertussis outweigh the possible side effects of the immunization. In adults and older children, the complications of pertussis are limited to bruising of the lungs due to severe coughing, abdominal hernia, or broken blood vessels in the skin. However, when it comes to infants and toddlers, the complications can be fatal. Your child could end up suffering from pneumonia, seizures, brain damage, weight loss due to problems in feeding, and dehydration.

The infection is usually characterized by long pauses between breaths and choking. Most of these complications are life-threatening. Therefore, it is strongly advised that you consult your doctor to have all your questions and concerns addressed. Also, if you plan to travel to another country where pertussis is common, you ought not hesitate to see your doctor for the vaccination.