Health Department

Tdap Vaccine (Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Pertussis): What You Need to Know

Tdap Vaccine (Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Pertussis): What You Need to Know
by Larry D. Jones, MPH, Health Director
July 29, 2014

Tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis can be very severe diseases, even for teenagers and adults. To help protect against these diseases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises vaccination with Tdap.

According to the CDC, before vaccines were available as many as 200,000 cases of diphtheria and pertussis, and hundreds of cases of tetanus occurred in the United States each year. Since vaccination began, tetanus and diphtheria have dropped by about 99 percent and pertussis by about 80 percent.

All three are bacterial diseases. Tetanus enters the body through open cuts, scratches, or other wounds, whereas diphtheria and pertussis are spread from person to person through coughing or sneezing.

Tetanus, or lockjaw, is a disease that causes painful muscle tightening and stiffness, usually all over the body. It can lead to tightening of muscles in the head and neck making it difficult to open your mouth, swallow, or sometimes even breathe. Tetanus kills about one of every five people who are infected.

Diphtheria starts with a sore throat, mild fever and chills. It leads to a thick coating in the back of the nose or throat that makes it hard to breathe or swallow. It can lead to breathing problems, paralysis, heart failure, and death.

Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is very contagious and causes severe coughing spells, which can cause difficulty breathing, vomiting and disturbed sleep. It can also lead to weight loss, inability of the body to control itself, and rib fractures. About 2 percent of adolescents and 5 percent of adults with pertussis are hospitalized or have complications.

The Tdap vaccine can protect people from the diseases. One dose of Tdap is routinely given at age 11 or 12. People who did not get Tdap at that age should get it as soon as possible. The Tdap is recommended at this age because the Dtap that is generally received when younger begins to wear off and the Tdap serves as a booster for extended protection. Tdap is especially important for health care professionals and anyone having close contact with a baby younger than 12 months. Tdap may safely be given at the same time as other vaccines.

Pregnant women should get a dose of Tdap during every pregnancy, to protect the newborn from pertussis. Infants are most at risk for severe, life-threatening complications from pertussis.

If your child is going into eighth grade, health department nurses will be at middle school enrollment Thursday, July 31 administering the Tdap vaccine free of charge. For anyone else who hasn’t received the vaccine, it is available by appointment at the Independence Health Department, 515 S. Liberty Street. Call 325-7185 to set up an appointment.

For more information about the Tdap vaccine, contact the Independence Health Department at 816325-7185 or CDC’s website at