Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals


Pertussis (whooping cough) is an important cause of infant death worldwide and continues to be a public health concern even in countries with high vaccination coverage. Estimates from WHO suggest that, in 2008, about 16 million cases of pertussis occurred worldwide, 95% of which were in developing countries, and that about 195 000 children died from the disease.

Following an incubation period of 9–10 days (range 6-20 days), patients develop catarrhal symptoms including cough. In the course of 1–2 weeks, coughing paroxysms ending in the characteristic whoop may occur.

For several decades, infant immunization programmes using pertussis vaccines of documented quality have been highly successful in preventing severe pertussis in infants all over the world.

The main aim of pertussis vaccination is to reduce the risk of severe pertussis in infancy. At least 90% coverage of infants with 3 doses of high quality pertussis vaccines remains the programme priority worldwide, particularly where pertussis still poses a serious health problem in infants and young children.

Although vaccination can prevent pertussis in adolescents and adults, there is insufficient evidence to support the addition of vaccine boosters in these age groups for achieving the primary goal of reducing severe pertussis in infants. Countries with demonstrable nosocomial transmission are encouraged to vaccinate health-care workers, particularly maternity and paediatric staff, if economically and logistically feasible.

In 2008, about 82% of all infants worldwide received 3 doses of pertussis vaccine. WHO estimates that, in 2008, global vaccination against pertussis averted about 687 000 deaths.

WHO position paper

Related links

Last updated: 21 June 2011