Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis Vaccines

Safety Information

About the Diseases

Diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis are potentially serious bacterial diseases that can be safely prevented in adults and children with vaccines.

Diphtheria causes a thick membrane-like covering in the back of the throat. It can lead to breathing problems, paralysis, heart failure, and even death. Learn more about diphtheria.

Tetanus (also known as lockjaw) is a serious disease that causes painful tightening of the muscles, usually all over the body. It can lead to “locking” of the jaw so the person cannot open their mouth or swallow. Tetanus leads to death in about 1 in 10 cases. Learn more about tetanus.

Pertussis (also known as whooping cough) is a highly contagious respiratory tract infection. Although it initially resembles an ordinary cold, whooping cough may eventually turn more serious, particularly in infants. Learn more about pertussis.

Vaccines are available that can help prevent these diseases. CDC recommends:

  • Children and preteens should get five doses of DTaP vaccine and a Tdap vaccine booster.
  • Pregnant women should get one dose of Tdap vaccine every pregnancy, preferably early in the 3rd trimester.
  • Adults should get one dose of Tdap or Td every 10 years. Adults who have never received Tdap should get it in place of a Td dose.

For more information, including catch-up schedules, see CDC’s recommended Child and Adult Immunization Schedules.

Vaccine Information Statements

Vaccine Information Statements (VISs) are information sheets produced by CDC that explain both the benefits and risks of a vaccine.

  • DTaPDiphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis vaccine for younger children
  • TdapTetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis vaccine for adolescents and adults
  • TdTetanus and diphtheria vaccine for adolescents and adults

Available Vaccines and Package Inserts

There are several different types of vaccines that can safety prevent diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis:

  • DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, and acellular pertussis) vaccine, which is given to children
  • DT (diphtheria and tetanus) vaccine, which is given to children
  • Tdap (combined tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis) vaccine, which is given to adolescents and adults
  • Td (tetanus and diphtheria) vaccine, which is given to adolescents and adults
calendar alt icon

Child and Adult Immunization Schedules
Get CDC’s official recommended immunization schedules, including catch-up schedules, for children, adolescents, and adults.

Manufacturer Package Inserts

Common Side Effects

DTaP, DT, Td, and Tdap vaccines are safe and effective at preventing diphtheria and tetanus. DTaP and Tdap vaccine are safe and effective at preventing diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis. Vaccines, like any medicine, can have side effects. The most common side effects are usually mild and go away on their own.

Important!

Severe allergic reactions following vaccination are rare, but can be life threatening.
Symptoms of a severe allergic reaction can include hives, swelling of the face and throat, difficulty breathing, a fast heartbeat, dizziness, and weakness.

If such reactions occur, call 9-1-1 and get the person to the nearest hospital.

DTaP Vaccines (for younger children)

Common Side Effects

  • Soreness or swelling where the shot was given
  • Fever
  • Irritability
  • Feeling tired
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting

Most side effects are mild to moderate and can last from 1 to 3 days.


Who Should Not Get DTaP Vaccine

DTaP is not for children 7 years of age and older.

Parents should talk to their child’s doctor about receiving the DTaP vaccine if their child:

  • had a severe allergic reaction after previous dose of DTaP,
  • was in a coma or had long repeated seizures within 7 days after a dose of DTaP,
  • developed a condition called Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) within 6 weeks of a DTaP dose or
  • had severe pain or swelling after a previous dose of DTaP or DT vaccine.

In some cases, the physician may decide to postpone the child’s DTaP vaccination to a future visit.

Children who are moderately or severely ill should usually wait until they recover before getting the DTaP vaccine.

Tdap Vaccines (for adolescents and adults)

Common Side Effects

  • Pain, redness, or swelling where the shot was given
  • Mild fever
  • Headache
  • Feeling tired
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach ache

Who Should Not Get Tdap Vaccine

A person who has ever had a life-threatening allergic reaction after a previous dose of diphtheria, tetanus or pertussis containing vaccine, or has a severe allergy to any part of this vaccine, should not get Tdap vaccine.

Anyone who has been in a coma or had long, repeated seizures within 7 days after a childhood dose of DTaP, should not get Tdap, unless a cause other than the vaccine was found. They can still get Td.

A person should have a discussion with their doctor about getting the Tdap vaccine if they:

  • had seizures or another nervous system problem,
  • had severe pain or swelling after any vaccine containing diphtheria, tetanus, or pertussis,
  • developed a condition called Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) within 6 weeks of a Tdap dose, or
  • aren’t feeling well on the day the shot is scheduled.
DT Vaccine (for children up to 7 years)

Common Side Effects

  • Crying
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite, nausea
  • Pain where shot was given
  • Headache

Who Should Not Get DT Vaccine

DT is not for children 7 years of age and older.

Parents should talk to their children’s doctor about receiving the DT vaccine if their child:

  • has a history of seizures,
  • received chemotherapy or radiation,
  • developed a condition called Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) within 6 weeks of a DT dose , or
  • had severe pain or swelling after previous dose of DT or DTaP vaccine.

In some cases, the physician may decide to postpone the child’s DT vaccination to a future visit.

Td Vaccine (for adolescents and adults)

Common Side Effects

  • Pain, redness, or swelling where the shot was given
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Tiredness

Who Should Not Get Td Vaccine

A person who has ever had a severe allergic reaction after a previous dose of any tetanus or diphtheria containing vaccine should not get a Td vaccine.

A person should have a discussion with their doctor about getting the Td vaccine if they:

  • had severe pain or swelling after any vaccine containing diphtheria or tetanus,
  • developed a condition called Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) within 6 weeks of a Td dose , or
  • aren’t feeling well on the day the shot is scheduled.

A Closer Look at the Safety Data

DTaP (younger children)

  • DTaP safety reviews of VAERS reports found no unexpected health concerns related to the vaccine.
    • Several studies of DTaP vaccine safety have looked for neurologic problems or seizures after children were vaccinated, and found that there is no increased risk for these concerns with the DTaP vaccine
    • There is a small increased risk for febrile seizures when inactivated influenza vaccine (flu shot) is given during the same doctor’s visit as either the PCV13 (pneumococcal) vaccine or the DTaP vaccine.
  • DTaP may cause mild injection site reactions. However, severe injection site reactions are rare, and may be less frequent when the vaccine is injected into the leg rather than into the arm. Reactions happen about as often when DTaP is combined with other vaccines.

Tdap (adolescents and adults)

  • Tdap safety reviews of VAERS reports have found no unexpected safety concerns for the general population, for pregnant women, or for adults over age 65.
  • In the VSD, studies have found no association between Tdap vaccination and Guillain-Barré Syndrome or other neurologic disorders. Other studies have found that there is no increased risk for other types of health problems, such as allergies, blood disorders, and chronic illnesses.
  • Although injection site reactions are common, studies have found a low rate of severe injection site reactions. These local reactions are unusual even when the vaccine is given at the same time as meningococcal vaccine (Menactra), or when a person receives several doses of Tdap vaccine over a short time period.

Seizures caused by fever are called “febrile seizures.” When they occur in young children, these seizures are frightening for parents. However, most children recover from them quickly and have no long lasting effects. Learn more about febrile seizures.

Which adverse events are considered “serious”?

By the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Title 21external icon, an adverse event is defined as serious if it involves any of the following outcomes

  • Death
  • A life-threatening adverse event
  • A persistent or significant disability or incapacity
  • A congenital anomaly or birth defect
  • Hospitalization, or prolongation of existing hospitalization

Learn more about adverse events.

How CDC Monitors Vaccine Safety

CDC and FDA monitor the safety of vaccines after they are approved or authorized. If a problem is found with a vaccine, CDC and FDA will inform health officials, health care providers, and the public.

CDC uses 3 systems to monitor vaccine safety:

More Information

Related Scientific Articles