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What are the benefits of the DTaP vaccine?
The DTaP vaccine protects your child against three diseases: diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (whooping cough).
This bacterial infection causes fever, weakness, and a sore throat. A thick, gray coating develops in the back of the throat, which makes it hard to breathe or swallow and sometimes results in suffocation. If the infection isn't treated, toxins produced by the bacteria may affect tissues and organs throughout the body, possibly leading to heart failure or paralysis.
Death occurs in up to 20 percent of cases in people younger than 5 and older than 40. These numbers have changed little in the last 50 years, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Before the vaccine was developed in the 1920s, there were more than 175,000 cases a year on average in the United States. By contrast, only two cases have been reported to the CDC between 2004 and 2015.
However, outbreaks of diphtheria are common all over the globe, especially in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, the South Pacific, and the Caribbean. So while the risk of getting diphtheria in the United States is low, the disease is only a plane ride away.
Tetanus (also called lockjaw) is a bacterial infection that can cause severe and painful muscle spasms, seizures, and paralysis.
It's not contagious. The bacteria live in soil and dust and enter the body through a break in the skin. People get tetanus from puncture wounds, burns, and other injuries – sometimes even minor ones.
Since the vaccine came into widespread use in the 1940s, the number of tetanus cases in the United States has fallen from about 500 to fewer than 30 a year. More than 10 percent of reported cases end in death.
Pertussis, better known as whooping cough, is a very contagious bacterial infection and one of the most common vaccine-preventable childhood diseases. Whooping cough causes coughing spells so severe that it's hard for a child to eat, drink, or breathe. It can lead to pneumonia, seizures, brain damage, and death.
Whooping cough remains a serious health problem among children in other parts of the world, and pertussis cases have been rising in the United States since the 1980s. In recent years, there have been significant outbreaks.
In 2012, there were more than 48,000 cases of whooping cough in the United States – the greatest number in nearly 60 years. Twenty people died, most of them infants younger than 3 months. Forty-nine states and Washington, D.C. reported more cases over the previous year. Colorado, Vermont, and Washington state declared epidemics in 2012, and significant outbreaks were reported in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Whooping cough cases reflect a continuing rise over the past two decades. But health officials point out that the overall incidence of pertussis has dropped 80 percent since the vaccine has been in use, and that there tend to be outbreaks every three to five years.
Before the vaccine was introduced in the 1940s, about 147,000 American children came down with whooping cough every year. The number of cases in the United States dropped to a historic low of 1,010 in 1976 but then began rising again as adolescents who had been vaccinated as babies lost their immunity and more babies went unvaccinated. More than 25,000 cases were reported in 2004 and 2005.
To counter this trend, an additional shot called Tdap is now recommended for children age 11 or 12. The Tdap shot is also recommended for adults who didn't have one during adolescence, followed by a Td booster shot every ten years.
Getting yourself vaccinated helps protect your baby and any other babies you're around. Infants under the age of 6 months are at greatest risk of becoming severely ill or dying from pertussis.
What's the recommended schedule?
Recommended number of doses
- Five shots of DTaP between birth and age 6
- One shot of Tdap between ages 11 and 12
- One shot of Tdap in adulthood, with Td boosters every 10 years
- 2 months
- 4 months
- 6 months
- Between 15 and 18 months
- Between 4 and 6 years old
- A Tdap shot at 11 or 12 years old
Teenagers and adults who have never had a Tdap shot or who are pregnant should get one and then have a Td booster every 10 years.
To track your child's immunizations, use BabyCenter's Immunization Scheduler.
Who shouldn't get the DTaP vaccine?
- An infant younger than 6 weeks old.
- A child who has had a life-threatening allergic reaction to a previous dose of DTaP.
- A child who has had a severe brain or nervous system reaction within seven days of a previous DTaP shot.
- A child who has had a seizure or fever above105 degrees after a dose of DTaP, or who has cried nonstop for more than three hours after a dose should get the okay from a doctor before getting the next dose of DTaP.
Also, talk to your child's doctor about other possible situations in which your child shouldn't get the vaccine. If the pertussis part of the shot causes a reaction, a DT (diphtheria tetanus) shot may be appropriate.
Are there any precautions I should take?
Children who are moderately to severely ill at the time the vaccine is scheduled should probably wait until they recover before getting the shot. That way, they'll be better able to tolerate any side effects.
What are the possible side effects?
Most potential side effects are associated with the pertussis part of the vaccine. Neither the diphtheria nor the tetanus vaccine is known to cause any serious side effects.
Relatively common side effects – usually occurring after the fourth and fifth doses of the vaccine – include redness, swelling, and soreness at the injection site and mild fever. If you notice these, you can ask the doctor whether it's okay to give your child acetaminophen (for any age) or ibuprofen (for age 6 months and older) to ease discomfort. Fussiness, tiredness, and (more rarely) vomiting can also occur.
Severe allergic reactions are rare but possible with any vaccine. See what our expert says about how to tell whether your child is having an adverse reaction.
If your child has an adverse reaction to this or any other vaccine, talk to your child's doctor and report it to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System.