The Tdap vaccine is a combination booster shot. 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 pertussis (aP). The Tdap vaccine became available in 2005 for older children and adults. Before 2005, there was no pertussis booster shot 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 the age of 7 years.

Is it a live vaccine?

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

Vaccines that aren’t live are inactivated (contain microbes killed by chemicals, heat, or radiation), subunits (contain only part of the microbe), toxoids (inactivated toxins), or conjugate (a subunit linked to a toxoid).

This means that they can’t actually cause the disease.

Tetanus

Tetanus doesn’t spread 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 spread from person to person, usually through respiratory droplets, coughing, or sneezing.

People can also get sick from touching open sores or ulcers of those with diphtheria.

The bacteria typically infect 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

Tdap protects adults from 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.

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 shot site
  • tiredness
  • 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 in the arm where the shot was given
  • 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 heartbeat, and dizziness

The cost of the vaccine is covered under most private insurance plans. But be sure to check with your insurance provider for details.

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 all women receive a Tdap vaccine during the 27th and 36th week of pregnancy.

Once you have protection from the vaccine, you’re less likely to pass whooping cough to your newborn. Infants are more likely to develop severe, life threatening complications from pertussis.

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

  • Adolescents age 11 to 12: 1 dose Tdap
  • Pregnancy: 1 dose Tdap during each pregnancy, preferably at 27 to 36 weeks

Catch-up vaccination

  • Adolescents age 13 to 18 who haven’t received Tdap: 1 dose Tdap, then a Td (to prevent tetanus and diphtheria) or Tdap booster every 10 years
  • Persons age 7 to 18 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 age 7 to 10:
    • Children age 7 to 9 who receive Tdap should receive the routine Tdap dose at age 11 to 12.
    • Children age 10 who receive Tdap don’t need to receive the routine Tdap dose at age 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 shot
  • you don’t remember if you’ve ever had the Tdap shot

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; ideally, you should get the shot at least 2 weeks before holding an infant
  • you’re pregnant; pregnant women should get a Tdap booster with every pregnancy

Although the risk of having a severe allergic reaction to a Tdap shot 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

Talk to 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 provider on a regular basis to make sure that your Tdap vaccinations are up to date.