Diphtheria-tetanus-acellular pertussis (dTap) vaccine
If you are a teenager, you need a booster shot for 3 serious diseases: diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough).
You were probably vaccinated against these diseases when you were much younger. Now, it’s time to protect yourself again.
Why do teenagers need this vaccine?
- Babies get a 5-in-1 shot that includes diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) vaccines.
- When they are between 4 and 6 years old, preschool children get a 4-in-1 shot, which protects against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis and polio.
- The vaccines against diphtheria and tetanus protect you for about 10 years. Recently, many teenagers have been getting whooping cough because the protection from their earlier shots has worn off.
- The sixth dose of diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccine will help prevent teenagers from getting these diseases.
- On the other hand, boosters for Hib and polio are not needed. Hib does not cause serious disease in healthy older children, adolescents and adults; and immunity after polio vaccine lasts for many, many years.
What is tetanus?
- Also called lockjaw, tetanus is caused by germs (bacteria) that are found in dirt and dust as spores (seed-like cells). These bacteria live in the intestines (bowels) of people and animals and can be found in the stools.
- Tetanus is not contagious. It does not spread from person to person.
- If the tetanus germ gets into an open cut, like a puncture, bite or serious burn, poison (toxin) from the germ can spread to your nerves and then to your muscles. Muscles may lock in one place or go into spasm (get very tight). This is very painful.
- Jaw muscles are often the first affected. You may not be able to swallow or open your mouth. If the poison gets to the muscles that help you breathe, you can die quickly.
- The main treatment for tetanus is anti-toxin (a serum that fights the poison).
- Antibiotics are also given to kill the germs. Other drugs are used to control the muscle spasms. A machine may be needed to help breathing.
- Between 1 and 8 people in 10 with tetanus will die.
- People who survive tetanus may have long-lasting problems with speech, memory and thinking.
- People who survive can get tetanus again. Infection does not give immunity. Everyone needs the vaccine.
What is diphtheria?
- Diphtheria is an illness caused by bacteria (germs). It produces a poison (toxin) that kills cells in the lining of the throat and causes serious breathing problems. It can also attack the heart, nerves and kidneys.
- About 1 person in 10 with diphtheria will die from the illness. Babies who get it are even more likely to die.
- Diphtheria must be treated with an anti-toxin (a serum that fights the poison). Antibiotics have no effect on the disease but are used to prevent the spread of the bacteria to others.
- People who get diphtheria do not always become immune. Everyone needs to be vaccinated.
What is pertussis?
- Also called whooping cough, pertussis is caused by germs that get into the throat and lungs and makes it difficult to clear mucous from the airways.
- Children may cough so long and so hard that they can’t breathe. Young infants may not be able to cough forcefully and may stop breathing.
- Babies with whooping cough may have fits (seizures) and in serious cases, go into a coma.
- About 1 in 400 infants with pertussis dies because of pneumonia or brain damage.
- Older children, adolescents and adults who get whooping cough will cough for more than 3 weeks, and cough may last up to 12 weeks.
- Coughing disturbs sleep, and in adolescence or adults may be severe enough to cause a rib fracture or a hernia or loss of control of urine.
How safe is the dTap vaccine?
- The combined diphtheria-tetanus-acellular pertussis vaccine is very safe.
- Teenagers who have had a serious allergic reaction to a dose of the 5-in-1 or 4-in-1 vaccine (swelling of the face or lips, difficulty breathing or a drop in blood pressure) should not get this vaccine unless seen by a specialist and vaccinated in a special clinic that can control severe reaction.
Are there any side effects to the vaccine?
- With any vaccine, there may be some redness, swelling, pain or tenderness where the needle went into the arm or leg.
- Some teenagers will have a fever after they get the shot. Ask your doctor what you can do to control the fever or pain.
Where can I get the vaccine?
- This vaccine is given by your doctor or in school-based programs. If you missed the school-based program, talk to your paediatrician or family doctor.
Reviewed by the following CPS committees
- Infectious Diseases and Immunization Committee
Last updated: May 2021