Your Child's Immunizations: Diphtheria, Tetanus & Pertussis Vaccine (DTaP)

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Lea este articulo en EspanolThe diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTaP) vaccine protects against:

  • Diphtheria: a serious infection of the throat that can block the airway and cause severe breathing difficulty
  • Tetanus (lockjaw): a nerve disease, which can occur at any age, caused by toxin-producing bacteria contaminating a wound
  • Pertussis (whooping cough): a respiratory illness with cold symptoms that progress to severe coughing (the "whooping" sound occurs when the child breathes in deeply after a severe coughing bout). Serious complications of pertussis can occur in children under 1 year of age, and those under 6 months old are especially at risk. Teens and adults with a persistent cough might not realize they have pertussis, and could pass it to vulnerable infants.

Immunization Schedule

DTaP immunizations are given as a series of five injections, usually administered at ages:

  • 2 months
  • 4 months
  • 6 months
  • 15-18 months
  • 4-6 years

After the initial series of immunizations, a vaccine called Tdap (the booster shot) should be given at ages 11 to 12, or to older teens and adults who haven't yet received a booster with pertussis coverage. Then, Td (tetanus and diphtheria) boosters are recommended every 10 years. Pregnant women should also get the Tdap vaccine in the second half of each pregnancy, even if they've been vaccinated in the past.

Why the Vaccine Is Recommended

Use of the DTaP vaccine has virtually eliminated diphtheria and tetanus in childhood and has markedly reduced the number of pertussis cases.

Possible Risks

The vaccine frequently causes mild side effects: fever; mild crankiness; tiredness; loss of appetite; and tenderness, redness, or swelling in the area where the shot was given.

Rarely, a child may have a seizure or cry uncontrollably after getting the vaccine. But these sorts of side effects are so rare that researchers question whether they're even caused by the vaccine. Most kids have a few minor or no side effects.

When to Delay or Avoid Immunization

  • The vaccine is not recommended if your child is currently sick, although simple colds or other minor illnesses should not prevent immunization.
  • Talk to your doctor about whether getting the vaccine is a good idea if your child experienced any of the following after an earlier DTaP shot:
    • a brain or nervous-system problem, like a seizure
    • the worsening of a seizure disorder
    • an allergic reaction, like mouth, throat, or facial swelling
    • fever of 105ºF (40.5ºC) or higher during the first 2 days after injection
    • collapse or a "shock"-like state during the first 2 days after injection
    • persistent, uncontrolled crying that lasts for more than 3 hours during the first 2 days after injection

Your doctor might decide to just give a partial vaccine or no vaccine, or may determine that the benefits of vaccinating your child outweigh the potential risks.

Caring for Your Child After Immunization

Your child may experience fever, soreness, and some swelling and redness in the area where the shot was given. Depending on your child's age, pain and fever may be treated with acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Check with your doctor to see if you can give either medication, and to find out the appropriate dose.

A warm, damp cloth or a heating pad also can help reduce soreness. Moving or using the limb that has received the injection often reduces the soreness.

When to Call the Doctor

  • Call if you aren't sure whether the vaccine should be postponed or avoided. Children who have had certain problems with the DTaP vaccine usually can safely receive the DT vaccine.
  • Call if complications or severe symptoms develop after immunization, including seizures, fever above 105ºF (40.5ºC), difficulty breathing or other signs of allergy, shock or collapse, or uncontrolled crying for more than 3 hours.

Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: February 2014



Related Resources

Web SiteNational Immunization Program This website has information about immunizations. Call: (800) 232-2522
OrganizationImmunization Action Coalition This organization is a source of childhood, adolescent, and adult immunization information as well as hepatitis B educational materials.
Web SiteCDC: Pre-teen and Teen Vaccines CDC site provides materials in English and Spanish for parents, teens, pre-teens, and health care providers about vaccines and the diseases they prevent.
Web SiteThe History of Vaccines The History of Vaccines is an informational, educational website created by The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, the oldest professional society in the United States.


Related Articles

Your Child's Immunizations Immunizations protect your child from potentially fatal diseases. Find out what vaccines your child needs to grow up healthy.
How Can I Comfort My Baby During Shots? Find out what the experts have to say.
Diphtheria Diphtheria is a bacterial infection that's rare in the United States, where health officials immunize kids against it. But it's still common in developing countries where immunizations aren't given routinely.
Tetanus Tetanus (also called lockjaw) is a preventable disease that affects the muscles and nerves, usually due to a contaminated wound.
Whooping Cough (Pertussis) Pertussis is characterized by severe coughing spells that end in a whooping sound when the person breathes in. It can be prevented with the pertussis vaccine, part of the DTaP immunization.
Immunization Schedule Which vaccines does your child need to receive and when? Use this immunization schedule as a handy reference.
Frequently Asked Questions About Immunizations Immunizations have protected millions of children from potentially deadly diseases. Learn about immunizations and find out exactly what they do - and what they don't.




Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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