One of the most important vaccines for protecting yourself and your loved ones against bacterial and infectious diseases, the Tdap vaccine is an adult vaccination that reinforces the childhood DtaP vaccine to protect against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis.
Though the pervasiveness of these diseases has significantly decreased since the development of their vaccines, they still exist and pose a serious threat to public health. In this blog, we will discuss the importance of the Tdap vaccine, who should get it, and when.
Is a Tdap vaccine necessary?
The Tdap vaccine is a combination of toxoid and subunit vaccine types that contain partial and inactive components of the antigens of tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. When a person receives the vaccine, their immune system is prompted to produce antibodies that can recognize and fight the bacterial antigens if encountered in the future. This immune response provides long-lasting protection, which is vital as infection from these diseases can be severe and sometimes fatal.
Tetanus, commonly called lockjaw, is a severe infection caused by Clostridium tetani bacteria, which affects the nervous system and causes painful muscle contractions, particularly in the jaw and neck muscles. Without treatment, it can be fatal, and in fact, tetanus kills about 1 in 5 people who contract it.
Tetanus can cause a number of painful symptoms, including:
- Jaw pain
- Muscle spasms, especially in the stomach
- Painful stiffness in the muscles throughout the body
- Difficulty swallowing
- Fever and sweating
- Changes in blood pressure and heart rate
Additionally, a tetanus infection can can lead to other serious and life-threatening complications like:
- Difficulty breathing
- Spasming of the vocal cords
- Broken bones
- Pulmonary embolism, which is a blood clot in an artery of the lungs
- Aspiration pneumonia
Tetanus precautions & prevention
Immunization is the most effective way to protect against a tetanus infection. To maintain immunity, it is important to stay up to date with a Tdap vaccine as well as booster shots. Additionally, practicing good hygiene and wound care can improve your immunity against tetanus.
Diphtheria precautions & prevention
Fortunately, diphtheria can be largely prevented through immunization with the Tdap vaccine. Though this disease is very rare today, it is important to receive vaccination in order to maintain herd immunity.
Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by Bordetella pertussis bacteria; it can lead to severe coughing spells, vomiting, and exhaustion. Though infection is typically less serious in adolescents and adults, it can be life-threatening for babies and young children.
Whooping cough symptoms
In the early stages of infection, pertussis can cause:
- Runny nose
- Low-grade fever
- Occasional cough
After 1–2 weeks, symptoms can develop to include:
- Violent coughing fits
- Difficulty breathing
Approximately 1 in 3 infants under a year old who are infected need to be hospitalized due to complications such as pneumonia and apnea. In rare cases, brain damage and death can occur.
Pertussis precautions & prevention
The Tdap vaccine is highly effective in preventing whooping cough. Additionally, in the case of exposure to the disease, preventative antibiotics can be prescribed to reduce risk of serious complications.
Who should get the tdap vaccine and when?
The CDC recommends that all adults receive a booster dose of Tdap every 10 years following the first shot to boost immunity at age 11 or 12. Additionally, pregnant women should get the vaccine during the third trimester of each pregnancy to protect their newborn against pertussis infection.
Tdap vs Dtap
Though very similar, DTaP is meant for infants and young children, while Tdap is meant for adolescents and adults. The difference between the two lies in the amount of vaccine components. Tdap contains a lower dose of diphtheria and pertussis antigens than DTaP because it is designed for older people who have already received some protection from earlier vaccinations. The tetanus component of both vaccines is the same.
How often do you get the Tdap vaccine?
Following the first Tdap vaccine booster at age 11-12, adults should get a Td or Tdap booster every 10 years.
When to get a tetanus shot after a cut
If you are up to date on your tetanus shot, you do not need another vaccine after getting a cut. However, if you have never been vaccinated or if it has been more than 10 years since your last Td booster, you should get a tetanus vaccine as soon as possible to ensure your wound does not become infected. TIG (Tetanus Immune Globulin) is sometimes recommended to provide temporary immunity to people who have a dirty wound or whose vaccination status is unknown.
Who should not get the Tdap vaccine?
While Tdap is recommended for most people, there are some groups of people who should not get the vaccine or should wait before getting it. These include:
- Children under 7 years old
- People who have had a severe allergic reaction to any component of the vaccine
- People with certain medical conditions, such as seizures or Guillain-Barré syndrome
- People who are feeling sick at the time of the vaccine
Can people with certain health conditions or allergies get the Tdap vaccine and what precautions should they take?
There are some people who should not get the Tdap vaccine or who should take extra precautions as a result of a particular condition. These cases vary and should be discussed with a healthcare provider.
What to expect of the Tdap vaccine
If you or a family member needs the Tdap vaccine, it is important to understand what to expect during and after vaccination. Tdap is given as an injection in the arm or thigh, and it may cause some discomfort, redness, or swelling at the injection site.
How effective is the Tdap vaccine, and how long does the protection last?
The Tdap vaccine is highly effective in preventing tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. After a complete vaccination series, Tdap has a clinical efficacy rate of about 97% for diphtheria and almost 100% for tetanus. The Tdap provides protection against tetanus and diphtheria for about 10 years, which is why a booster shot is recommended at 10-year intervals. The level of protection provided against pertussis varies with age.
What are the side effects and risks?
The Tdap vaccine is considered to be a safe and effective vaccine, although there are some mild side effects associated with it. Some of the most common side effects include:
- Soreness, redness, and swelling at the injection site
- Mild fever
- Body aches
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or stomach pain
In very rare cases, serious allergic reactions can occur. If you experience the symptoms of an allergic reaction after receiving the Tdap vaccine, you should seek medical attention right away.
How common are side effects after Tdap?
Mild side effects—most commonly irritation at the injection site, mild fever, and body aches—are fairly common. However, these side effects usually go away without intervention after a few days, and more serious reactions are very rare.
What are the tdap vaccine side effects with pregnancy?
The side effects of the Tdap vaccine are no different or more serious for people who are pregnant, and the vaccine has not been associated with an increased risk of pregnancy complications. Additionally, the vaccine does not interfere with breastfeeding. Overall, the benefits of the Tdap vaccine during pregnancy are considered significantly greater than the risks.
The Tdap vaccine is a safe and proven vaccine that has significantly reduced the spread of tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis over the years. Still, it is important to stay up to date in order to maintain low risk of infection for yourself and others. If you are unsure if the Tdap vaccine is safe for you specifically, schedule a consultation with one of our pharmacists: they can help you understand the risks and benefits, or what to do if you’re unsure of your vaccine status.
Time for an immunity booster? Visit the Thomas Seashore Pharmacy nearest you to receive your shot and keep yourself and your community safe!