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Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussis Vaccine for Adults

Who Needs a Booster Shot?

Tdap is given only once during your lifetime. However, you need routine booster shots of the Td vaccine every 10 years to adequately protect you against tetanus and diphtheria. 



Who Should Not Get the Vaccine?

You should not receive the vaccine if you have had:

  • A serious allergic reaction to any of the vaccine ingredients in the past
  • A coma or seizures within a week of receiving childhood vaccinations for pertussis (such as DTaP), unless the vaccine was not the cause; Td can be used in these cases.

If you have had any of the following, talk to your doctor about whether the Tdap or Td vaccine is right for you: 

  • Epilepsy or another nervous system problem
  • Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS)
  • A history of severe swelling or pain after receiving a pertussis, tetanus, or diphtheria vaccination in the past
  • If you are moderately to severely ill (your doctor may recommend waiting to get the shot until after you recover); the CDC says you can still get the vaccine if you have a mild illness, such as a cold or low-grade fever.


What Are the Side Effects and Risks of Tdap and Td?

Like all medicines, vaccines can have side effects. However, the chance of a life-threatening reaction is small. The CDC says the dangers of developing pertussis, tetanus, or diphtheria far outweigh the risks of vaccination.

Mild side effects of Tdap may include:

  • Pain, redness, or swelling in the arm where the shot was given
  • Mild fever
  • Headache
  • Tiredness
  • Stomach upset, including nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Swollen glands

Mild side effects of Td may include:

  • Pain, redness, or swelling in the arm where the shot was given
  • Mild fever
  • Headache

In some people, these side effects may be more intense. They may temporarily interfere with daily activities. Severe swelling of the arm has been reported in three out of 100 people receiving either Tdap or Td. About one in 250 adults who receive the Tdap vaccine develop a fever of 102 or higher.

During clinical trials of Tdap, two adults developed temporary nervous system problems. It's unknown whether this was due to the vaccine or not. In rare cases, vaccination with Tdap or Td has led to extreme swelling of the arm where the shot was given.

Can Adults Have Allergic Reactions to Tdap or Td Vaccines?

Very rarely, someone may have a severe allergic reaction to an ingredient in the Tdap or Td vaccine. This generally happens in less than one in a million doses. Most of the time, such reactions occur within a few minutes of receiving the vaccine. The following can be signs of a severe allergic reaction, called anaphylaxis:

  • Behavior changes
  • Breathing difficulty, including wheezing
  • Dizziness
  • Hoarse voice
  • High fever
  • Hives
  • Pale skin
  • Rapid heart beat
  • Weakness

Seek immediate medical care if you notice any of these signs after receiving the Tdap or Td vaccines.


WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD on March 21, 2013

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