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Adults and the diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTaP) vaccine


  • Adults infected with pertussis can easily transfer the disease to infants, for whom symptoms can be severe. It is therefore recommended that those aged between 10 and 18 years, as well as adults, receive at least one cell-free diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTaP) vaccine.
  • All pregnant women should receive a DTaP vaccine between the 27th and 36th week of pregnancy.


Once our childhood vaccination program is complete, we still need to receive some important additional vaccinations into adulthood including the diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTap) vaccine. The vaccine protects against the following diseases:

Diphtheria: an infectious bacterial disease that usually presents symptoms within 2–5 days of infection. This disease seriously affects the throat and nasal passage. Common symptoms are swollen lymph nodes, high fever, sore throat, difficulty swallowing, exhaustion, breathlessness and tiredness. It is easily contracted via contact with bodily fluids of infected patients.

Tetanus: a bacterial disease that severely affects the central nervous system. In cases where patients do not receive adequate or timely medical attention, tetanus can cause fatal complications, with severe lung infections being particularly dangerous.

Pertussis: an infectious bacterial respiratory disease that presents symptoms similar to influenza during its initial stages. Next, a severe cough develops, leaving the patient feeling tired and exhausted, while varicose veins may occur in the neck, resulting in vision issues. For those who have not been vaccinated or did not complete a course of DTaP vaccinations, complications caused by this disease can be fatal.

The diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccine

The best form of treatment for disease is to prevent contraction in the first place. The vaccine for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis is made from the contagions and toxins of each disease which are processed to ensure they are free from living cells that can cause the disease. This process means that the vaccine is both safe and highly effective in protecting the recipient from developing any of these disorders, as long as they receive the full course of vaccinations.

The diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccine can come in the following forms:

1.The diphtheria and tetanus vaccination: an essential vaccine for all children aged 7 or above. This vaccine is a 3-time course of shots, injected into the muscle at 0, 1 and 6 months apart. A booster vaccination should also be administered every 10 years thereafter. Furthermore, patients with dirty wounds that may be contaminated with tetanus, as well as pregnant women, should also receive this vaccine, unless they have already completed their course of diphtheria and tetanus vaccinations.

2.The whole cell diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccine: every child should receive a full 5-time course of DTaP injections in the muscle located at the top of the thigh at ages 2, 4, 6 and 18 months, with the final injection following between 4–6 years of age. There is also a 1-time combined hepatitis B, polio and hib vaccine available at this age. Note that the whole cell DTaP vaccine is not suitable for infants over the age of 7 years of age or adults. These groups are instead advised to receive the diphtheria and tetanus vaccine (without pertussis).

3.The cell-free diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccine: made from the toxins present in diphtheria and tetanus cells which are then processed to ensure they no longer pose a threat of infection, this vaccine also contains a separate pure form of the pertussis germ. This program involves a 5-time course of injections, the same as is necessary for the whole cell version, and can be used in place of that version as necessary. People who have previously experienced side effects, such as a fever and shock, from the whole cell vaccine should consider receiving the cell-free version for the remainder of their vaccination program as it usually results in fewer side effects.

4.The cell-free diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccine (suitable for older children and adults): Children who have completed their 5-time vaccination program before the age of 10 will see their immunity gradually decrease. In this case, a booster vaccine is necessary between 10–18 years of age. In the past, such a vaccine only provided protection for diphtheria and tetanus (not pertussis), as the pertussis vaccination was only suitable for use in young infants and could lead to side effects if administered to older children or adults. A cell-free DTaP booster vaccine has since been developed for use in older children and adults, which involved adapting the purity of the pertussis cells and reducing their quantity. Such modifications mean that this vaccine can even be administered on the same day as other vaccinations, although separate injections are still necessary.

Vaccine side effects

The active ingredients in vaccines have been processed to ensure the highest levels of safety. However, in some cases there may be side effects, such as swelling at the injection site, headaches, exhaustion, nausea and fever. These symptoms tend to be mild, often disappearing altogether within 2–3 days. Patients may treat their symptoms using a cold compress on the aching or swollen area, and taking fever relief medication as necessary. Nevertheless, if symptoms worsen, it is recommended that patients seek urgent medical attention.

Pertussis can occur in both children and adults. The disease can even be transferred to young infants, meaning the 1-time cell-free DTaP vaccine is strongly recommended for those aged between 10–18 years and adults, as well as for all pregnant women during the 27th–36th weeks of pregnancy.

People who forgo the crucial DTaP vaccine may end up part of a high-risk group, and could develop severe complications resulting in a permanent disability or even death in the event they contract one of those diseases. Therefore it is vital that people do not overlook the importance of boosting their immunity with vaccinations, beginning with childhood programs and extending throughout their adult life with booster vaccinations.

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Payia Chantadisai, M.D. Summary: Internal Medicine Infectious Diseases