7 Myths About the Tdap Vaccine for Grandparents

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Susan Fishman, NCC, CRC on October 22, 2022
  • grandmother embracing infant grandchild
    Protect your grandchildren.
    There are few things as exciting as a new grandbaby. But before you hold that precious little one for the first time, it’s important to be sure you are as healthy as you can be to prevent passing any illness to the baby. This includes whooping cough (also called pertussis), a highly contagious respiratory disease that can cause uncontrollable coughing and difficulty breathing. A one-time booster shot called Tdap can protect adults from getting, and spreading, whooping cough, and knowing how it works — and how it doesn’t — is the best way to protect your grandchild.
  • grandfather reading book to grandchild
    Myth #1: Vaccines are for kids, not adults.
    Many adults think vaccines are for kids. But grandparents, who are often caregivers, need to be protected so they don’t spread the virus to young grandchildren. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends all adults and adolescents at least 11 years old who have not previously received a Tdap vaccine, should be vaccinated at least 2 weeks before coming into close contact with a newborn. This includes mothers, fathers, siblings, grandparents, caregivers and healthcare professionals. The idea is to create a “cocoon” of protection around the baby.
  • grandfather in chair lifting up grandchild
    Myth #2: It’s an ancient disease that’s no longer prevalent.
    Whooping cough may sound like a disease from the distant past, but it’s actually quite common in the United States today. In fact, more than 18,000 cases of whooping cough were reported to the CDC in 2015. And 4 out of 5 infants who contracted pertussis in the U.S. in recent years got it from someone who lived with them.
  • family celebrating pregnancy
    Myth #3: The vaccine’s immunity lasts forever. or Immunity lasts forever.
    Though you may have been vaccinated against whooping cough as a child, immunity wears off over time. Because the virus spreads easily through a cough or a sneeze and can cause severe illness, even death, the Tdap vaccine is recommended for all adults, including pregnant women, as well as teens and preteens. It’s especially recommended for parents and grandparents - anyone who is going to be around a new baby.
  • senior man sitting in chair and coughing
    Myth #4: Those who’ve had whooping cough once, can’t get it again.
    Even if you’ve had whooping cough before, you may be susceptible to the disease. Reinfection appears to be uncommon, but it does occur. Whooping cough is slowly coming back today because adults aren't getting the Tdap booster shot. Not only can the vaccine limit the spread of whooping cough, it also helps protect against tetanus and diphtheria.
  • senior woman coughing in hand
    Myth #5: It’s easy to tell if someone’s contagious.
    Babies who get whooping cough often get it from family members, including grandparents. But you may not even know you have the disease. It’s usually a family member who has a mild case of whooping cough — and thinks he or she has a lingering cold or bronchitis — who unknowingly passes it to an infant.
  • grandfather holding grandchild in hands
    Myth #6: Grandparents will know if they’ve passed it on to the grandbaby.
    Whooping cough can be quite dangerous for young babies. They have less protection against whooping cough than older children and most adults, and are more likely to have potentially serious complications, such as pneumonia or convulsions. But often babies with whooping cough don’t cough at all, so you may not be aware of it. Instead, they typically stop breathing and turn blue. 
  • man-coughing-into-napkin
    Myth #7 A little coughing can’t hurt.
    It’s true you may only have a cough (though it may last for up to three months) with this disease. But whooping cough can be risky for people who are elderly or frail. A coughing fit can cause bones weakened by osteoporosis to break. Persistent coughing can also interfere with eating. Though the vaccine’s effectiveness wears off over time, it can still reduce the severity of the disease if you do get sick, and can reduce the chance of spreading it to others. So be sure to talk to your doctor about getting the Tdap vaccine — especially if a grandbaby is on the way.
Tdap Vaccine & Grandparents | Whooping Cough Vaccine
  1. Grandparents Can Help Prevent Whooping Cough with Tdap Vaccine. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/pertussis/downloads/matte-grandparents.pdf
  2. Grandparents Urged to Get Booster Shot to Protect Against Pertussis. American Association of Retired Persons. https://www.aarp.org/relationships/friends-family/info-11-2011/grandparents-need-whooping-cough-vaccine-va.html
  3. Protect Infants Against Pertussis, Cocooning through Tdap vaccination. American Academy of Pediatrics. https://www.aap.org/en-us/Documents/immunization_protect_infants_against_pertussis.pdf
  4. Why You Need a Whooping Cough Vaccine. Consumer Reports. https://www.consumerreports.org/health/why-you-need-a-whooping-cough-vaccine/
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Last Review Date: 2022 Oct 22
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.