• The Center for Vaccine Awareness and Research
  • DTap and Tdap

    These vaccines are important because they protect infants, children, adolescents and adults against three illnesses caused by bacteria – diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough).

    Who should receive the DTaP or Tdap vaccines?

    The patient's age determines the type of vaccine that is given:

    • DtaP is given by injection to infants and children less than 7 years.
    • Tdap is given by injection to people age 11 to 64 years.

    In order for the DTaP vaccine to be fully effective throughout childhood, five doses should be given to children when they are:

    • 2 months old
    • 4 months old
    • 6 months old
    • 15 to 18 months old (and even as young as 12 months if exposure is likely)
    • 4 to 6 years old

    Children with any moderate or severe illness should wait until they are fully recovered before they receive a DTaP injection. The DTaP vaccine should not be given to children over 6 years of age.

    Older children, teens and adults (11 to 64 years of age) can receive protection from tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis by receiving the Tdap booster vaccine. Tdap vaccine is recommended for adolescents between the ages of 11 and 12 years, and for all other adolescents and adults (younger than age 64) who have not previously received this vaccine. Tdap vaccine is especially recommended for all women who have just given birth and for all people aged 11-64 who will be in contact with infants younger than 1-year old. 

    If an adolescent or adult already has received the Td (tetanus, diphtheria) vaccine, a 2-year interval between Td (tetanus and diphtheria) and Tdap currently is recommended.  However, if the adolescent or adult will be in contact with an infant younger than 1-year old, Tdap may be given even if the interval from the last Td is less than 2 years.

    Review the vaccination schedule for those who start late on a vaccine or are more than one month behind.

    About Diptheria, Tetanus and Pertussis

    Diphtheria infection coats and blocks the back of the throat and can cause a range of symptoms including difficulty breathing and swallowing, heart problems, paralysis and death.

    Tetanus, commonly known as lockjaw, leads to muscle spasms that can “lock” the patient’s jaw so breathing and swallowing become impossible. One in 10 people who contract tetanus die.

    Pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough or by the Chinese as the 100 day cough, leads to severe coughing spells that do not allow the patient to breathe and can develop into pneumonia, seizures even causes death in young infants.

    Prevention is the key to not contracting diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. The most effective preventive method is the DTaP vaccine (given to infants and children under 7 years of age) or Tdap vaccine (available for use among those who are from 11 to 64 years of age).

    When did the DTaP and Tdap vaccines become available?

    In the 1940s, the diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTP) vaccine routinely  was given to infants and children in the United States routinely in the United States to protect against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. In 1991, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) licensed the current DTaP vaccine, which is associated with fewer reactions than the DTP formulation. The old DTP is no longer used in the United States, but is still used in other parts of the world.

    Due to widespread use of the DTaP vaccine, diphtheria has gone from being one of the major causes of death in children to being extremely rare in the United States. The vaccine also has made tetanus rare, but for those who are infected there is still no uniformly effective treatment. Pertussis or whooping cough remains uncommon in vaccinated infants and children, but it is common in adolescents and young adults and in infants too young to have been fully vaccinated. The United States FDA licensed a tetanus, reduced diphtheria and pertussis (Tdap) vaccine in 2005 for use in adolescents and adults. Learn more about how vaccines are licensed.

    How does someone become infected with diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis?

    Diphtheria and pertussis are transmitted from person to person. Tetanus is contracted by contamination of an open wound or cut.

    How effective are DTaP and Tdap vaccines?

    Diphtheria and tetanus infections are rare in the United States as a result of DTaP and Td vaccines. Pertussis is common adolescents and young adults because protection against pertussis from vaccination or disease lasts only five to eight years. That is why the Tdap booster should be given at 11 or 12 years of age. All adolescents and adults up to 64 years of age also should receive the Tdap booster vaccine.

    What are the possible side effects of the DTaP or Tdap vaccines?

    Serious risks from the DTaP or Tdap vaccines are quite rare compared to the life-threatening risks associated with contracting diphtheria, tetanus or pertussis.

    Mild side effects from the DTaP vaccine may include:

    • injection-site soreness
    • mild fever
    • nausea
    • irritability
    • poor appetite and fatigue

    Infrequent moderate side effects may include seizures, high fever and incessant crying (three hours or longer). In very rare cases (less than one of 1 million doses), a serious allergic reaction may occur.

    Mild side effects from the Tdap vaccine may include:

    • injection-site soreness, swelling or redness
    • mild fever

    Immunization is the best thing you can do for your child and yourself to protect against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis.

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