DTaP and Tdap Vaccines

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on May 22, 2024
6 min read

DTaP is a vaccine that helps children younger than age 7 develop immunity against three deadly diseases caused by bacteria: diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough (pertussis).

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.

DTaP vs. Tdap

Both vaccines contain inactivated forms of the toxin produced by the bacteria that cause the three diseases. Inactivated means the substance no longer causes disease but does trigger the body to create antibodies that give it immunity against the toxins. 

DTaP is approved for children younger than 7.

Tdap, on the other hand, is a booster immunization approved for children and adolescents starting at age 7. It is often called a booster dose because it boosts the immunity that lessens from vaccines given at ages 4 to 6.

Tdap is typically given to adolescents at age 11 through 12. It's also recommended by the CDC for children ages 7 through 10 who haven't been fully vaccinated against whooping cough and for adolescents ages 13 through 18 and adults who didn't receive the dose at age 11 or 12.

 It offers continued protection from the three diseases for adolescents and adults.

 Booster doses of Tdap or Td (a different shot that protects against tetanus and diphtheria but not whooping cough/pertussis) may then be given to adults every 10 years (or after 5 years if there as an instance of a dirty wound or burn).

Pregnant women are also advised to get the Tdap vaccine, preferably between 27 and 36 weeks of gestation.

The DTaP vaccine is also available as a combination vaccine with inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV). This 4-in-1 vaccine is only given to children aged 4-6 (before a child turns 7) and works by making antibodies against the diseases. It can protect against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), and polio.

The DTaP vaccine contains diphtheria and tetanus toxoids and pertussis antigens. Toxoid vaccines use toxins created by disease-causing germs to create immunity or protection from the parts of the germ that cause the disease. They target the harmful activity of a germ, instead of the germ itself.


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


The DTaP vaccine may be available at your doctor's office. If not, you can also try local pharmacies, or neighborhood health clinics, departments, churches, and schools. If your doctor's office does not have the vaccine available, you can ask for a referral. If you have difficulty finding a place to get the vaccine, your state health department can help.

DTaP vaccine cost

Most private health insurance companies cover the cost of the vaccine. You can ask your insurance provider if the vaccine is fully covered and for a list of providers that are in-network for the vaccine. Another option for getting the vaccine for a lower price or free is the Vaccine for Children program, which offers vaccines for children 18 years of age who don't have access to insurance, are underinsured, are eligible for Medicaid, or belong to certain groups such as Alaska Native or American Indian.

The CDC recommends that if children are moderately or severely ill when they are scheduled to receive the vaccine, they should wait until they recover before getting it. Minor illnesses such as 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 7 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
  • Has ever had Guillain-Barré Syndrome (also
    called “GBS”)
  • Had severe pain or swelling after a previous tetanus or diphtheria vaccine

Like any medicine, vaccines can have side effects. But the risk of experiencing a serious problem with DTaP or Tdap is extremely small. On the other hand, the risk of your child contracting a major illness such as 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 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:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Hoarseness
  • Wheezing
  • Hives
  • Paleness
  • Weakness
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Dizziness

DTaP vaccine reactions

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.

Some mild problems 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 1-3 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 within 24 hours of giving the shot can help control fever and ease 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.

The DTaP vaccine is a vaccination that prevents infections from diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (whooping cough). It's given to children younger than age 7. As the immunity wears off, the Tdap shot is recommended and given to adolescents at age 11 and is recommended in adults every 10 years (or after 5 years if there is an instance of a dirty wound or burn). The risk of serious side effects from the vaccination is extremely small.

Is DTaP the whooping cough vaccine?

DTaP is a vaccine that helps children younger than age 7 develop immunity to diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough (pertussis).

How often do you need the DTaP vaccine?

Children younger than 7 years of age receive DTaP. Babies and children receive five doses of DTaP, according to the following schedule:

  • 2 months
  • 4 months
  • 6 months
  • 15 through 18 months
  • 4 through 6 years