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The Tdap vaccine is a combination vaccine. It protects preteens and adults against three diseases: tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough).

Tetanus and diphtheria are rare in the United States today, but whooping cough continues to spread.

Tdap stands for tetanus (T), diphtheria, (D), and acellular pertussis (aP). The Tdap vaccine became available in 2005 for older children and adults. Before 2005, there was no pertussis vaccine for anybody over 6 years of age.

Tdap is different than the DTaP vaccine (diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough), which is given to infants and children in five doses, starting at 2 months of age. Tdap is only for those above age 7.

Is it a live vaccine?

Nope. Diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus vaccines aren’t live vaccinations.

Types of vaccines that aren’t live include:

  • inactivated vaccines, which contain microbes killed by chemicals, heat, or radiation
  • subunits, which contain only part of the microbe
  • toxoids, which contain inactivated toxins
  • conjugate, which contains a subunit linked to a toxoid

Since the Tdap vaccine isn’t live, it can’t cause these diseases.

Tetanus

Tetanus is not a communicable disease, meaning it doesn’t pass from person to person. The bacteria are usually found in soil, dust, and manure and enter the body through breaks in the skin.

Tetanus is often referred to as lockjaw because tightening of the jaw muscles is one of the most common signs of this infection.

Tetanus can lead to serious health problems, including an inability to open your mouth and difficulty swallowing and breathing.

Today, tetanus is uncommon in the United States, with an average of about 30 reported cases each year.

Diphtheria

Diphtheria is caused by strains of bacteria that are typically transmitted through respiratory droplets, coughing, or sneezing.

People can also contract diphtheria from contact with open sores or ulcers containing the bacteria.

The bacteria typically affect the respiratory system, which can cause:

  • weakness
  • sore throat
  • mild fever
  • swollen glands in the neck

Diphtheria can lead to difficulty breathing, heart failure, paralysis, and even death.

Pertussis

The Tdap vaccine protects against whooping cough, which can be debilitating and last for months. It can cause uncontrollable, violent coughing that makes it hard to breathe or consume food or drinks.

Tdap also helps protect infants who are too young to be vaccinated against whooping cough. Parents, siblings, and grandparents are often the source of whooping cough in infants.

Young children have been vaccinated against whooping cough since the 1940s. But protection against the disease naturally wears off over time, so booster vaccines can help keep up immunity. To stay up to date, contact a healthcare professional to set up routine reviews of vaccine history for you and your child.

Every vaccine comes with a chance of side effects, and the Tdap vaccine is no exception. Fortunately, reported side effects with Tdap are generally mild and go away on their own.

Mild to moderate side effects may include:

  • mild pain, redness, or swelling at the injection site
  • fatigue
  • body aches
  • headache
  • nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • mild fever
  • swelling of the entire arm in which the vaccine was given

Severe problems after the Tdap vaccine are rarely reported, but may include:

  • severe swelling, pain, or bleeding at the injection site
  • a very high fever
  • signs of allergic reaction within a few minutes to a few hours of vaccine, which may include hives, swelling of the face or throat, difficulty breathing, rapid heart rate, and dizziness

If you notice any of these severe symptoms after receiving the Tdap vaccine, seek medical attention.

The cost of the vaccine is covered under most private insurance plans. Be sure to check with your insurance provider for details. You can also check with your state health departments or local health centers for low-cost or free vaccinations.

Tdap vaccines are also covered under Medicare part D plans. There may be a cost associated with your specific plan, though, so check with your Medicare representative.

Vaccines for Children is a federally funded program that provides vaccines for children 18 years and younger who are uninsured, underinsured, Medicaid-eligible, American Indian, or Alaska Native.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that those who are pregnant receive a Tdap vaccine anytime between weeks 27 and 36 of pregnancy.

If you’re pregnant, once you have protection from the vaccine, whooping cough is less likely to transmit to a newborn. Infants are more likely to develop severe, life threatening complications from whooping cough.

Doctors will recommend a Tdap vaccination schedule depending on your age and vaccination history:

  • Ages 11 to 12 years: 1 dose Tdap
  • Pregnancy: 1 dose Tdap during each pregnancy, preferably anytime between 27 to 36 weeks

Catch-up vaccination

  • Ages 13 to 18 years who haven’t received Tdap: 1 dose Tdap, then a Td (to prevent tetanus and diphtheria) or Tdap booster every 10 years
  • Ages 7 to 18 years who aren’t fully vaccinated with DTaP: 1 dose Tdap as part of the catch-up series (preferably the first dose); if additional doses are needed, use Td or Tdap
  • Tdap administered at ages 7 to 10 years:
    • Children age 7 to 9 who receive Tdap should receive the routine Tdap dose at ages 11 to 12.
    • Children age 10 who receive Tdap don’t need to receive the routine Tdap dose at ages 11 to 12.

If you’re age 18 or older, the CDC recommends that you get a dose of Tdap in place of your next Td (tetanus and diphtheria) booster if:

  • you’ve never gotten the Tdap vaccine
  • you don’t remember if you’ve ever had the Tdap vaccine

A Td booster is usually given every 10 years with a single injection in the upper arm.

You should get a Tdap booster before the 10-year interval if:

  • you anticipate having close contact with an infant younger than 12 months (get the vaccine at least 2 weeks before holding an infant)
  • you’re pregnant

Although the risk of having a severe allergic reaction to a Tdap vaccine is very low, certain people should avoid getting the Tdap vaccine, including:

  • people who have had a previous life threatening allergic reaction to any vaccine containing tetanus, diphtheria, or pertussis
  • people who were in a coma or had seizures within 7 days of a childhood dose of DTP or DTaP, or a previous dose of Tdap
  • anyone under the age of 7 years old

Talk with your doctor if you have seizures or another condition that affects the nervous system.

Also, let your doctor know if you’ve ever had Guillain-Barré syndrome or if you’ve ever experienced severe pain or swelling after any previous vaccine containing diphtheria, tetanus, or pertussis.

A healthcare professional’s office — such as a pediatrician, family practitioner, or community health clinic — is usually the best place to receive a Tdap vaccine.

These vaccines may also be available for adults at:

  • pharmacies
  • workplaces
  • health departments
  • other community locations, such as schools and religious centers

You can also reach out to federally funded health centers as well as your state health department to learn where to get a vaccine near you.

Getting a Tdap vaccine is an important part of maintaining your health as well as the health of infants. Reach out to your healthcare professional on a regular basis to make sure that your Tdap vaccinations are up to date.