The Tdap Vaccine: What is it?

pharmacists at the pharmacy giving information to patient
The Tdap vaccine is a vaccination that has been used to protect people from tetanus, diphtheria, and acellular pertussis. It is recommended that all adults should have the Tdap vaccine because it protects against three different diseases that are very serious if not treated. We’ll go over what these diseases are, how they can be prevented with the Tdap vaccine, and who should get it.

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Tdap Vaccine 101 | Symptoms of Tetanus | Symptoms of Diphtheria | Symptoms of Pertussis | Differences between Vaccines | Safety

The Tdap vaccine is a vaccination that has been used to protect people from tetanus, diphtheria, and acellular pertussis.

It is recommended that all adults should have the Tdap vaccine because it protects against three different diseases that are very serious if not treated.

We’ll go over what these diseases are, how they can be prevented with the Tdap vaccine, and who should get it.

What is the Tdap vaccine?

The Tdap vaccine stands for tetanus, diphtheria, acellular pertussis vaccine.

The vaccine helps protect you from three diseases: tetanus (also called “lockjaw”), diphtheria, and pertussis. Whooping cough is also known as pertussis.

The Tdap vaccine was developed in response to the need for a tetanus and diphtheria (Td) booster shot that would protect against pertussis, too, which has been on the rise since the 1980s. It is an FDA-approved shot and is recommended for ages 11 and older, both men and women.

The Tdap vaccine was first approved by the FDA in 2005 for use among adolescents 11 to 18 years old.

In 2011, it became a part of the Td (tetanus and diphtheria) booster shot as well as an adult TDap vaccine.

The Tdap shot is important for adults because the protection from childhood vaccinations wears off over time and must be boosted to remain effective.

What are the symptoms of tetanus?

Tetanus is a deadly, painful bacterial infection that is most noted for its muscle spasms.

These spasms typically happen over several minutes and start at the jaw and work their way down the body and happen frequently the first few weeks.

Tetanus enters the body through dirty wounds such as stepping on a rusty nail.

Symptoms usually start from two days to a couple of weeks after contracting the infection and can last up to four months or longer.

Symptoms may include:

  • Stiff muscles all over
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Drooling
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Headaches
  • Increased heart rate
  • Fever

Tetanus is very painful and usually results in the death of 10% of the people who contract it.

What are the symptoms of diphtheria?

Diphtheria is a bacterial infection that is caused by Corynebacterium diphtheriae bacterium in the bloodstream.

It is a disease that can cause breathing problems, paralysis, and sometimes death.

Symptoms include fever, sore throat, swollen glands in the neck, and general fatigue or weakness.

When diphtheria becomes severe, it can cause grey and white spots in the throat that can inhibit your breathing.

The symptoms are typically very mild if there are any at all as asymptomatic people can also have it. During outbreaks, there have been death tolls of up to 10% of people who get diphtheria.

What are the symptoms of pertussis?

Pertussis, also called whooping cough or the 100-day cough, is another highly contagious bacterial infection.

It is passed from person to person through the air, usually when an infected individual coughs or sneezes.

It is caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis and is usually mistaken for the common cold at first.

The main difference between the two is that whooping cough can last for weeks or months at a time. It derives its name from the gasp you make after severe coughing fits.

Pertussis symptoms typically appear within one to two weeks after infection and may include:

  • Runny nose
  • Low fever, less than 101 degrees Fahrenheit or less than 38.33 degrees Celsius
  • Coughing

Even with vaccination, you can still get this disease although the symptoms are usually much milder.

A simple swab test of the back of the throat may be tested to ensure you have it and treatment involves antibiotics that reduces infection within five days.

What is the difference between the Tdap and DTaP vaccines?

We explained the Tdap vaccine but what is the DTaP vaccine? It can be confusing.

Both help protect against the same bacterial infections of tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough, but there is a slight difference besides the order of their letters.

The DTaP vaccine is typically given to children under the age of seven while the Tdap vaccine is given to anyone over the age of 11.

These shots are usually not the same as your booster shots you receive every 5-10 years though, as those typically only boost tetanus and diphtheria and are known as Td shots.

The main takeaway is that the shots vaccinate against the same bacteria but are administered at different ages.

What is the DTaP-IPV vaccine?

DTaP-IPV protects against all of the bacterias listed above but also adds polio to the list. IPV simply stands for “inactivated polio vaccine” and it is available in both the Tdap and DTap vaccines.

There is also a shot now that is the DTaP-IPV-hib shot which is typically given to infants in a series of shots.

This shot has polio and Haemophilus influenzae type B vaccines in it and is one of the most comprehensive vaccines for children to date.

Is the Tdap vaccine safe?

These vaccines have been proven to work very well and are safe. There can always be adverse reactions, but these reactions are typically very mild. The common reactions include:

  • Soreness, redness, and swelling at the place the shot was administered
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Tiredness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Chills
  • Body aches
  • Rash
  • Swollen glands

Please note that on very rare occasions there can be very severe adverse reactions.

These are only experienced in about 1 in 1,000,000 cases with the onset beginning minutes to hours after vaccination.

The chance for adverse reactions should not diminish your desire to get the shot as all the vaccines have been proven highly effective and even more so with the booster shots.


The Tdap vaccine is an effective vaccine that protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and acellular pertussis, also known as whooping cough.

Tetanus is a bacterial infection that causes lockjaw, severe muscle spasms, and can lead to death in 1 in 10 people who contract it.

Diphtheria is known to cause swelling of the neck and can also cause breathing problems and has been proven fatal, too.

Whooping cough can last weeks or months and can cause coughing fits, it is often most fatal in infants and children.

Though they share the same letters and protect against the same bacterial infections, the Tdap and DTaP vaccines are slightly different.

The difference lies in when the shots are administered to patients, with the DTaP shot being given to children under the age of seven while the Tdap shot is given to patients who are over 11 years old.

There are several more variations too that help vaccinate against other diseases like polio, which is in the DTaP-IPV shot, and a strain of the flu, which is available as a DTaP shot for children.

These vaccines have proven to be incredibly safe with reactions typically being mild. There is a very slight risk of a severe allergic reaction but that only occurs in one in a million recipients of the shot.

Please talk to your doctor, pharmacist, or healthcare provider should you have any further questions.

References, Studies and Sources:

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