Ingredients in the Pertussis Vaccine

Pertussis, also called whooping cough, is a disease that causes severe, violent coughing fits. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advise that pertussis is quite contagious, and is spread through close contact with an infected person who is coughing or sneezing. There were 25,000 cases of pertussis in the United States in 2005. To keep cases of pertussis low, a vaccine made up of inactivated toxins and protein is given to activate the immune response against pertussis bacteria.

Inactivated toxins

The vaccine that protects against pertussis is usually combined with the vaccines for two other diseases: diphtheria and tetanus. The combination vaccine is called “DTaP,” which stands for diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis. According to GlaxoSmithKline, makers of the DTaP vaccine Infantrix, the combination vaccine contains inactivated forms of the toxins made by the bacteria that cause diptheria, pertussis, and tetanus. After injection with the vaccines, the body develops immunity to the inactivated toxins. If the body encounters the toxin again as a result of pertussis infection, the immune system quickly reacts and inactivates the toxins, preventing the person from getting sick.

Filamentous hemagglutinin (FHA)

In addition to the inactivated toxins, GlaxoSmithKline also states that the pertussis vaccine contains a protein called filamentous hemagglutinin (FHA). According to a review in June 1999 by the National Institutes of Health, FHA is a protein on the surface of the bacteria that causes pertussis. Because FHA is present on the surface of the bacteria, cells in the immune system can readily identify it, and respond by killing the bacteria. In this manner, the person is also protected from infection.


A third ingredient in the pertussis vaccine, according to GlaxoSmithKline, is called pertactin. It is another protein on the surface of the bacteria that causes pertussis, and also induces a strong immune response.

About this Author

Leah DiPlacido, a medical writer with more than nine years of biomedical writing experience, received her doctorate in immunology from Yale University. Her work is published in Journal of Immunology, Arthritis and Rheumatism, and Journal of Experimental Medicine. She writes about disease for doctors, scientists, and the general public.