DTaP and Tdap Vaccines

DTaP is a vaccine that helps children younger than age 7 develop immunity to three deadly diseases caused by bacteria: diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough (pertussis). Tdap is a booster immunization given at age 11 that offers continued protection from those diseases for adolescents and adults.

Diphtheria is a respiratory disease that can cause breathing problems, paralysis, heart failure, and death. It's highly contagious and is spread by coughing and sneezing.

Tetanus, or lockjaw, is caused by a bacterium often found in soil. Once it enters the body it releases a toxin that attacks the nervous system, causing muscle spasms and death if left untreated.

Pertussis, also highly contagious, causes coughing spasms so severe that in infants it makes it difficult to eat, drink, or even breathe. It can lead to pneumonia, seizures, brain damage, and death.

Before the vaccines were developed, these diseases were rampant. Vaccines protect the community by preventing the spread of disease from one person to the next, which even offers some protection to the unvaccinated. If people stopped getting vaccinated, the incidence of these three diseases would rapidly rise and thousands would get sick and perhaps even die.

What's the Difference Between DTaP and Tdap?

Both vaccines contain inactivated forms of the toxin produced by the bacteria that cause the three diseases. Inactivated means the substance no longer produces disease, but does trigger the body to create antibodies that give it immunity against the toxins. DTaP is approved for children under age 7. Tdap, which has a reduced dose of the diphtheria and pertussis vaccines, is approved for adolescents starting at age 11 and adults ages 19 to 64. It is often called a booster dose because it boosts the immunity that wanes from vaccines given at ages 4 to 6.

Immunity wears off over time. So, the current recommendation is that everyone needs a booster shot for tetanus and diphtheria every 10 years after first being immunized. That booster comes in the form of a vaccine called Td. But since immunity to pertussis also wears off during childhood, a weaker form of the pertussis vaccine has been added to the booster to make the vaccine Tdap. The current recommendation is that one dose of the Tdap vaccine be substituted for one dose of the Td vaccine between the ages of 11 and 64. Pregnant women are also advised to get the Tdap vaccine, preferably between 27 and 36 weeks' gestation.

Children ages 7 through 10 who aren't fully vaccinated against pertussis, including children never vaccinated or with an unknown vaccination status, should get a single dose of the Tdap vaccine. Teens ages 13 through 18 who haven't gotten the Tdap vaccine yet should get a dose, followed by a booster of tetanus and diphtheria (Td) every 10 years.

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When Should Children Be Vaccinated With the DTaP Vaccine?

Children should receive five doses of the DTaP vaccine according to the following schedule:

  • One dose at 2 months of age
  • One dose at 4 months of age
  • One dose at 6 months of age
  • One dose at 15 to 18 months of age
  • One dose at 4 to 6 years of age

Are there any children who should not get DTaP vaccine?

The CDC recommends that children who are moderately or severely ill at the time they are scheduled to receive the vaccine should wait until they recover before getting it. Minor illnesses like a cold or low-grade fever, however, should not prevent a child from receiving a dose of the vaccine.

If a child has a life-threatening allergic reaction after receiving a dose of the vaccine, that child should not be given another dose.

A child who suffered a brain or nervous system disease within seven days of receiving the vaccine should not be given another dose.

Some children may have a bad reaction to the pertussis vaccine in DTaP and should not take another dose. There is, however, a vaccine called DT that will protect them from diphtheria and tetanus. Talk with your doctor if your child experienced any of the following reactions:

  • Had a seizure or collapsed after a dose of DTaP
  • Cried nonstop for 3 hours or more after a dose of DTaP
  • Had a fever over 105 F after a dose of DTaP

Are There Dangers Associated With DTaP and Tdap?

Like any medicine, vaccines can have side effects. But the risk of experiencing a serious problem to DTaP or Tdap is extremely small. On the other hand, the risk of your child contracting a major illness like diphtheria or pertussis is extremely high without the vaccine.

One of the most serious problems that can come from getting the vaccine is an allergic reaction. That happens in less than one out of a million doses. If it were going to happen it would most likely happen within a few minutes to a couple of hours after taking the vaccine. And even though it's rare, it's important to be alert for an allergic reaction with any medicine and get medical help at once if it occurs. Symptoms might include any of the following:

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Other very rare problems that have been reported include long-term seizures, coma or lowered consciousness, and brain damage. These problems have occurred so rarely that the CDC says it's impossible to tell whether they were actually related to the vaccine or caused by something else.

There are some mild problems that commonly occur after getting the vaccine. They include:

  • fever
  • redness or swelling at the site of the shot
  • soreness or tenderness at the site of the shot
  • fussiness
  • tiredness
  • vomiting

These problems could occur within one to three days after the shot and generally pass quickly. If your child has ever had seizures from any cause, it's important to control fever. Using an aspirin-free pain reliever in the 24 hours after the shot is given can help control fever and relieve pain. Do not give aspirin to a child under the age of 18 for fever. Aspirin can cause a very serious life-threatening illness called Reye's syndrome, which can cause brain and liver damage.

Keeping immunizations up to date can protect not only you and your children from a serious illness but also your community.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on April 22, 2015

Sources

SOURCES:

Pediatrics, published online Feb. 1, 2011.

The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia: "A Look at Each Vaccine: Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis Vaccines."

Immunization Action Coalition: "Ask the Expert: Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis."

CDC: "Vaccines and Preventable Diseases: Diphtheria Vaccination;" "Diphtheria Tetanus & Pertussis Vaccines: What You Need to Know;" "How Vaccines Prevent Disease;""Common Questions Parents Ask about Infant Immunization;" and Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

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