Whooping cough cases occurred in record numbers across Australia last year and the epidemic is continuing into 2009. Many adults no longer have immunity and need to be vaccinated.

Whooping cough (pertussis) is a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. It can cause severe coughing spasms with difficulty breathing and can be fatal.

While most adults recover well, whooping cough can be dangerous in young children, especially babies. Babies are vaccinated at 2, 4 and 6 months but are not fully protected until after the 6 month vaccination. Before this, they can catch the disease from infected adults. Always keep your baby away from anyone who has a cough.

Further vaccinations are required at 4 years and at school at around 15 years of age.

However vaccination does not always give complete protection and is not lifelong, lasting perhaps 10-15 years. As a result adults need booster doses at regular intervals.

Who should be vaccinated?

All children should receive vaccination as part of the free National Immunisation Program, as above. Make sure your teenager also receives a booster between 12 and 17 years.

Vaccination is also available for any adult who wants protection. However, vaccination is especially important for those in contact with young children, especially:

  • Those planning a pregnancy. Both partners should be vaccinated before pregnancy or as soon as possible after birth.
  • Adults in regular contact with an infant, including siblings and grandparents.
  • People working with small children in health care and child care.

Whooping cough vaccine is safe and well tolerated. Side-effects, e.g. fever and swelling at the injection site, are usually mild. Vaccination is safe in those who have already had whooping cough.

Ask your doctor if you need a whooping cough booster. The vaccine is available for adults on a private prescription and costs about $35.

Further information


  • Please note this information was correct at time of publication.
  • For up to date information, speak to your doctor.
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