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Vaccines Health Center

Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussis Vaccine for Adults

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Tdap is a combination vaccine that protects against three potentially life-threatening bacterial diseases: tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough). Td is a booster vaccine for tetanus and diphtheria. It does not protect against pertussis.

Tetanus enters the body through a wound or cut. It affects the brain and nervous system and causes extremely painful muscle spasms. Spasms of the jaw can make it impossible for you to open your mouth. This condition is often called "lockjaw." Tetanus kills one out of five people infected with the disease.

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Under the Affordable Care Act, many health insurance plans will cover preventive care services, including checkups, vaccinations and screening tests, at no cost to you. Learn more.

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Diphtheria is a very contagious infection that makes it difficult to breathe. In severe cases, it can cause heart and nerve damage.

Pertussis, or whooping cough, is an extremely contagious respiratory infection that can lead to severe breathing problems, especially in infants. Pertussis first appears like an ordinary cold, but then causes intense, uncontrollable coughing spells. A "whoop" noise is heard when the person tries to take a breath after coughing. 

These diseases were once quite common in the U.S. and led to many deaths. However, routine vaccinations have helped nearly eliminate tetanus and diphtheria infections. Pertussis is the only vaccine-preventable disease that continues to rise in the U.S. Before 2005, only young children could receive the pertussis vaccine. Waning immunity and inadequate vaccination is believed to have led to a resurgence of the disease in the U.S. in recent years. Outbreaks of pertussis among adolescents and adults have been reported in several states.

Tdap vaccination offers the best prevention against pertussis, tetanus, and diphtheria. Tdap stands for tetanus and diphtheria toxoids with acellular pertussis. It is marketed under the brand names Adacel and Boostrix.

Tdap is an inactive vaccine, which means it is made using dead bacteria. The dead germs cannot make you sick. Tdap is not the same as DTaP, the vaccine used for children to prevent the same diseases.

When Should Adults Be Vaccinated With Tdap?

The CDC recommends the Tdap vaccine for all adults age 19 and older who have never received the vaccine, especially:

  • Health care workers who have direct contact with patients
  • Caregivers of infants under 1 year old, including parents, grandparents, and babysitters
  • Pregnant women in their third trimester (ideally 27th through 36th week), even if they have previously received Tdap vaccine; this can protect a newborn from whooping cough in the first months of life.
  • New mothers who have never received the Tdap
  • People who travel to countries where pertussis is common
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