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DTaP/Tdap Vaccine

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Image: ImmYOUnity Essential truths about immunization
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DTaP/Tdap Vaccine

DTaP and Tdap vaccine information

DTaP and Tdap vaccines help protect infants and children against 3 diseases: pertussis, tetanus, and diphtheria. The childhood vaccine is called DTaP. The adult and adolescent booster vaccine is called Tdap. Both help protect against all 3 conditions.154

An overview of DTaP and Tdap

The names DTaP and Tdap are acronyms created from initials of the diseases that they protect against: tetanus ("T"), diphtheria ("D/d") and whooping cough, known medically as pertussis ("P/p").154

"The California Department of Public Health officially declared a whooping cough epidemic in 2014."110

Pertussis has been getting more attention lately because new cases occur across the country every week.26 In recent years, 92% of whooping cough deaths have occurred in infants younger than 4 months of age, who are too young to be fully immunized and the most vulnerable.25

Very often, a parent, sibling, or another family member is the source of an infant's whooping cough. In fact, researchers have found that, when the source can be identified, up to 83% of babies caught the disease from family members—another reason it's important for your family to be vaccinated.53

"Infants are at the greatest risk for pertussis, but adolescents and adults are getting it more and more."57

The pertussis vaccines, DTaP (for infants and children) and Tdap (for adolescents and adults), also protect against diphtheria and tetanus:

  • Diphtheria can lead to breathing problems, heart failure, and death. You can get it from contact with an infected person. In pre-vaccine days, diphtheria killed about 15,000 people in the United States per year.72
  • Tetanus is a bacterial disease you can get from a cut or wound.72 It can lead to stiffness of muscles, including the jaw, so the person can't open his or her mouth or swallow. It's often called "lockjaw" for this reason.57 Although tetanus is not contagious, almost all reported cases are in people who have either never been vaccinated or who have not had a booster in 10 years.57,72
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Pertussis vaccines for infants and young children

Before vaccines for this disease became available, pertussis was a major source of illness and death among infants and children, with hundreds of thousands of cases reported each year in the United States, along with thousands of deaths. The number of cases dropped dramatically to about 1000 in 1976, thanks to vaccination.25

"There are an estimated 800,000 to 3.3 million adolescent and adult cases of whopping cough each year in the United States."56

Pertussis can cause violent coughing spells that can make it hard for an infant to eat, drink, or breathe.72 In fact, most pertussis deaths occur among unvaccinated infants younger than 6 months of age.84 The DTaP vaccine, which is used in infants and children to help protect against pertussis, is given as a series of 5 DTaP injections during the first 4-6 years of life.111

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Tdap Vaccine for Teenagers and Preteens

Young children are given the DTaP vaccine, which helps protect them against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis, but that protection wears off as they get older. That is why your preteen needs a booster shot known as Tdap.51

"The best way you can protect your adolescent from pertussis is immunization with Tdap."51

Vaccinating your adolescent may help prevent the spread of pertussis to infants in his or her life. Adolescents can spread diseases, such as whooping cough, to infants, who are too young to be vaccinated. In fact, whooping cough is often spread by household members and it can be deadly for infants. So if you have a baby in the house, making sure your adolescent is vaccinated helps prevent the spread of pertussis to your little one.53,25

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Tdap Vaccine for Adults Through Age 64

Because pertussis may feel like a regular cold at first, an adult may not know they have it and then pass it on to someone in their family.111 Adult pertussis immunity wears off, putting infants at increased risk.156

By helping to protect yourself from pertussis, you'll also be helping to prevent the spread of pertussis to infants in your life. By 24 months of age, 1 in 5 children have not received their fourth dose of DTaP vaccine.112 This leaves children 6 months behind the recommended immunization schedule and vulnerable to potentially devastating diseases.113

In addition, any pertussis vaccine you received as a child may have worn off, so you too are vulnerable. This is why the CDC recommends that adults receive a Tdap shot, especially if they are going to be around infants younger than 12 months of age.111

Pertussis, diphtheria and tetanus vaccine concerns

Like any kind of medicine or medical treatment, DTaP vaccine and Tdap vaccine can cause mild side effects. Serious side effects, however, are extremely rare. When you think about it, having pertussis, diphtheria, or tetanus would cause many more problems than getting the DTaP vaccine or Tdap vaccine.34

DTaP vaccine side effects

There are some minor side effects that could occur with DTaP vaccine. These side effects could include a fever or redness, swelling or soreness where the shot was given. The odds of a child having any of these minor side effects is about 1 in 4. However, the odds a child will have a serious allergic reaction to DTaP vaccine is less than 1 in 1 million.34

Tdap vaccine side effects

The Tdap vaccine has some common side effects that vary from person to person. These side effects may be noticeable, but usually not enough to interfere with daily activities.34

Here's a list of some common Tdap side effects and the likelihood they may occur:

  • Pain at the injection site
  • Redness or swelling at the injection site
  • Mild fever
  • Headache
  • Tiredness
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach ache34

While no one wants to experience any kind of side effects, keep in mind that the chances an adult or an adolescent will have a severe allergic reaction from a Tdap vaccine are extremely low: less than 1 in 1 million.34 To help put that in perspective: a child is almost 100 times more likely to get struck by lightning.2

Pregnancy and whooping cough vaccine safety

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that pregnant women receive the Tdap whooping cough vaccine for adolescents and adults during the third trimester of each pregnancy. The goal of vaccinating pregnant women is to protect their newborns from contracting pertussis in the first few months of life.114 To learn more about this update talk to your health care provider, read more about the ACIP recommendation, and read this article from The American Medical Association.

People who will be spending time with the infant should also be encouraged to get either DTaP or Tdap, whichever is appropriate for their age. This includes nannies, family members, and others.115

DTaP/Tdap vaccine administration

Different pertussis-containing vaccines are given to persons of different ages. The DTaP vaccine is given to infants and young children as a series of shots, and helps protect against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis.49 The Tdap vaccine is a one-time booster shot for adolescents and adults to help extend the immunity provided by the DTaP vaccines they received as children.145,154 If you're not sure you or a loved one needs to get vaccinated against pertussis, talk to your health care professional.

Where to get DTaP and Tdap vaccines

Both the DTaP and Tdap vaccine can be given at your health care provider's office or a nearby community health clinic.

When to get the DTaP vaccine

The DTaP vaccine is given as a series of 5 shots. Infants and young children should get the DTaP vaccine in accordance with the CDC's childhood immunization schedule. Here's an overview of when each dose of DTaP should be given:

  • 2 months of age
  • 4 months of age
  • 6 months of age
  • 15-18 months of age
  • 4-6 years of age111

When to get the a Tdap booster

The Tdap booster is given as a single shot, usually in the arm. Timing of getting a Tdap vaccine depends on the person's age and situation, and it's especially important for families and caregivers of infants to get a Tdap vaccine:

  • The CDC recommends that adolescents receive a dose of Tdap vaccine between 11 and 18 years of age, but preferably when they are 11-12 years of age
  • It's recommended that adults get a tetanus and diphtheria booster (called Td) every 10 years and substitute a dose of Tdap vaccine for one of these boosters111
  • Adults who have close contact with an infant younger than 12 months of age should get a Tdap booster if they haven't already had one87
  • Mothers-to-be should get a dose of Tdap vaccine before they become pregnant115
  • It is important for women to get the whooping cough vaccine in the third trimester of every pregnancy. The best time to get the vaccine is during the 27th through 36th week of pregnancy.123
  • New mothers should get a dose of Tdap before leaving the hospital with their newborn.115

Cost of DTaP and Tdap vaccines

The cost of DTaP and Tdap vaccines may be covered by your health insurance. If not, or if you don't have health insurance, some offices or local health clinics may be able to give you vaccines at a lower cost. You may also be eligible for the CDC's Vaccines for Children program. Visit the Vaccines for Children website for more information.

Download DTaP and Tdap vaccine schedules

Infants and children under 6 years of age

Children and teens 7-18 years of age


DTaP/Tdap vaccine science

Before pertussis vaccines became widely used, the disease would spread easily and almost all children developed whooping cough and thousands died every year.30 While this is no longer the case, pertussis is still a very serious threat. In the recent decade, epidemics have occurred, along with frequent outbreaks.116 For example, the last epidemic in the state of California was in 2014 with 11,164 reported cases, of which 234 were infant cases.115 This is why immunizing with the DTaP vaccine and Tdap vaccine is so important.

Pertussis vaccine history

Today, health care professionals use acellular pertussis vaccine as opposed to the older whole cell pertussis vaccine. The "a" in Tdap and DTaP actually stands for acellular. Acellular pertussis vaccines have been available in the United States since 1991. In 1998, they became the only recommended kind of whooping cough vaccines used in the United States because compared with whole cell pertussis vaccines they produced fewer reactions.30

How whooping cough vaccination works

Like most vaccines, the Tdap and DTaP vaccines work by exposing the immune system to an inactivated part of or substances from bacteria. The immune system can then learn how to fight the disease before it develops. This way, if the immune person is exposed to that germ down the road, the body will "remember" how to fight it and will help prevent the person from getting sick.83

Tdap and DTaP vaccine ingredients

Tdap and DTaP vaccines contain safe, miniscule amounts of some preservatives and additives. These are often added for the same reason many foods need preservatives: to ward off any contaminating bacteria and extend the life of the vaccine.67

While these ingredients worry some parents, it's important to remember that we are often exposed to these same substances in our everyday lives. For example, small amounts of aluminum are added to DTaP and Tdap vaccines to help make them more effective.67 But aluminum also occurs naturally in our environment and makes its way into our bodies through other sources as well.83

Do DTaP vaccine or Tdap vaccine cause autism?

A series of recent well-designed scientific studies investigated a connection between different vaccines and autism, and no link was found. The controversy was around the mercury-containing preservative thimerosal, which isn't in DTaP or Tdap vaccines.109