Acellular vaccines for preventing whooping cough in children

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Mar 14;(3):CD001478. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD001478.pub5.


Background: Routine use of whole-cell pertussis (wP) vaccines was suspended in some countries in the 1970s and 1980s because of concerns about adverse effects. Following such action, there was a resurgence of whooping cough. Acellular pertussis (aP) vaccines, containing purified or recombinant Bordetella pertussis (B. pertussis) antigens, were developed in the hope that they would be as effective, but less reactogenic than the whole-cell vaccines.

Objectives: To assess the efficacy and safety of acellular pertussis vaccines in children.

Search methods: We searched the Cochrane Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (The Cochrane Library 2011, Issue 4) which contains the Cochrane Acute Respiratory Infections Group's Specialised Register, MEDLINE (1950 to December week 4, 2011), EMBASE (1974 to January 2012), Biosis Previews (2009 to January 2012), and CINAHL (2009 to January 2012).

Selection criteria: We selected double-blind randomised efficacy and safety trials of aP vaccines in children up to six years old, with active follow-up of participants and laboratory verification of pertussis cases.

Data collection and analysis: Two review authors independently extracted data and assessed the risk of bias in the studies. Differences in trial design precluded a meta-analysis of the efficacy data. We pooled the safety data from individual trials using a random-effects meta-analysis model.

Main results: We included six efficacy trials with a total of 46,283 participants and 52 safety trials with a total of 136,541 participants. Most of the safety trials did not report the methods for random sequence generation, allocation concealment and blinding, which made it difficult to assess the risk of bias in the studies. The efficacy of multi-component (≥ three) vaccines varied from 84% to 85% in preventing typical whooping cough (characterised by 21 or more consecutive days of paroxysmal cough with confirmation of B. pertussis infection by culture, appropriate serology or contact with a household member who has culture-confirmed pertussis), and from 71% to 78% in preventing mild pertussis disease (characterised by seven or more consecutive days of cough with confirmation of B. pertussis infection by culture or appropriate serology). In contrast, the efficacy of one- and two-component vaccines varied from 59% to 75% against typical whooping cough and from 13% to 54% against mild pertussis disease. Multi-component acellular vaccines are more effective than low-efficacy whole-cell vaccines, but may be less effective than the highest-efficacy whole-cell vaccines. Most systemic and local adverse events were significantly less common with aP vaccines than with wP vaccines for the primary series as well as for the booster dose.

Authors' conclusions: Multi-component (≥ three) aP vaccines are effective and show less adverse effects than wP vaccines for the primary series as well as for booster doses.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Child
  • Diphtheria-Tetanus-Pertussis Vaccine / adverse effects
  • Diphtheria-Tetanus-Pertussis Vaccine / therapeutic use
  • Diphtheria-Tetanus-acellular Pertussis Vaccines / adverse effects
  • Diphtheria-Tetanus-acellular Pertussis Vaccines / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Pertussis Vaccine / therapeutic use
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Whooping Cough / prevention & control*


  • Diphtheria-Tetanus-Pertussis Vaccine
  • Diphtheria-Tetanus-acellular Pertussis Vaccines
  • Pertussis Vaccine