Tdap (Whooping Cough) Vaccine

Pertussis (Whooping Cough), Diphtheria and Tetanus Information

Pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, is a disease that can cause a runny nose, sneezing, low fever, and cough. As the disease worsens, the cough becomes faster and more forceful, and develops a high-pitched whooping noise. Complications from a pertussis infection include pneumonia, seizures, brain damage, hospitalization, and, in some cases, death. Pertussis is caused by bacteria and is usually spread from person to person through coughing and sneezing.

Diphtheria is a disease that can cause a thick coating to form in the nose, throat, or airway, making it difficult to breathe. Symptoms of diphtheria infection include runny nose, sore throat, low fever, and feelings of tiredness. If the disease is left untreated, it can block the airway or lead to paralysis, heart failure, coma, or death. Diphtheria is caused by bacteria and is usually passed on through close contact with an infected person.

Tetanus is a disease that can cause the painful tightening of muscles, usually all over the body. Tetanus bacteria are found primarily in soil, and infection can occur when the bacteria enter the body through a cut or wound. Early symptoms of tetanus include:

  • Tightening of jaw muscles, or "lockjaw"
  • Neck stiffness
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Stiffness of the stomach muscles

Later symptoms can include muscle spasms, seizure-like activity, and other complications. Tetanus causes death in about 30 percent of people who are infected.

Pertussis (Whooping Cough), Diphtheria and Tetanus Vaccine Information

The pertussis vaccine is only given with the diphtheria and tetanus vaccines. The two combination diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccines are: DTaP and Tdap. DTaP vaccine is for children younger than 7 years old, and Tdap vaccine is for older children and adults.

These vaccines are given as an injection into the arm or thigh muscle, which is known as an intramuscular (IM) injection.

Who Should Receive the Pertussis (Whooping Cough), Tetanus and Diphtheria Vaccines?

Vaccine Group Age # of Doses Booster Dose
DTaP Infants and Children Younger than 7 4 or 5* None
Tdap Adolescents and Adults 11 and older 1 None

*The fifth dose is not required if the fourth dose was given on or after the fourth birthday.

Pertussis, Tetanus and Diphtheria Vaccination Schedule

DTaP Vaccine (Routine schedule):

  • Five doses: At 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15-18 months, and at 4-6 years old

Tdap Vaccine:

  • A single dose for adolescents 11 through 18 years of age, with 11 or 12 as the preferred age for routine vaccination
  • A single dose in place of one Td booster dose in older adolescents and adults age 19 and older who have not previously received Tdap

Diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis vaccines may be given at the same time as other vaccines.

Side Effects

Mild-to-Moderate Problems

  • Soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given
  • Fever, headache, tiredness, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea

Severe Problems (Rare)

  • High fever
  • Long-term seizures, coma, or brain damage
  • Serious allergic reactions, with symptoms including:
    • - Difficulty breathing
    • - Wheezing
    • - Hives
    • - Paleness
    • - Fast heartbeat
    • - Dizziness

Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help ease pain and reduce fever.

It is extremely rare for these vaccines to cause serious harm or death. If the person getting the vaccine has a serious reaction, call the doctor or seek immediate medical attention.

Who Should Not Receive the Pertussis (Whooping Cough), Diphtheria and Tetanus Vaccine?

  • Those with moderate or severe illness (for example, a severe cold, flu or infection of the sinuses or lungs) should not receive the vaccine until symptoms of the illness improve.
  • Women who are pregnant or plan to become pregnant should ask their doctor if they should receive the vaccine.
  • Those who previously had a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction to the vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine should not be vaccinated.
  • Those with a history of the following should check with their doctor before receiving the vaccine:

Additional Information

Tell your doctor or a healthcare provider if the person getting the vaccine has any severe allergies.

Call the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at 800-232-4636 or visit the CDC website, at, for more vaccine information.

This publication should be used for general educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Be sure to contact your doctor, pharmacist, or other healthcare provider for more information about human papillomavirus. Although it is intended to be accurate, neither Walgreen Co., its subsidiaries or affiliates, nor any other party assumes liability for loss or damage due to reliance on this publication.


Atkinson W, Hamborsky J, McIntyre L, Wolfe S, eds. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases. 10th ed. Washington, DC: Public Health Foundation, 2007.

Vaccine Information Statement: diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis vaccine (DTaP). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). May 17, Accessed April 2008.

Vaccine Information Statement: tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis vaccine (Tdap). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). July 12, Accessed April 2008.

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