TDAP, DTaP, and TD Vaccines

We’ve been hearing a lot about COVID-19 vaccines, and most of us are aware that kids need vaccines as they grow up. Many of us know that flu vaccines are a must. But there is another group of adult vaccines that are less well understood: TDAP, DTaP, and TD vaccines. 

TDAP, DTaP, and TD vaccines guard against three diseases:

  • Tetanus
  • Diphtheria
  • Pertussis

All three of these diseases are caused by bacteria, and all of them can be serious, and even life-threatening.


Tetanus is caused by bacteria entering a wound or a cut. It affects the brain and the nervous system. It can cause painful muscle spasm or “lockjaw,” in which the muscles of the jaw lock up. This makes it hard to open the mouth or to swallow. There is no cure for tetanus, and about 20% of people who develop this disease die from it.


Diphtheria is a serious infection of the nose and throat that can lead to damage of the heart and nervous system as well as trouble breathing. It can be fatal. Diphtheria is rare in the United States because most children are vaccinated against it.


Pertussis, or whooping cough, used to be a common childhood disease. It was one of the most common causes of death among children in the early 20th century. Immunizations have almost eliminated whooping cough, and it causes very few deaths now. Unfortunately, as some parents have decided not to have their children immunized, the number of cases of pertussis in American children has increased.

The different vaccines

DTaP is given to children. It is the main reason that these three deadly diseases are no longer common in the United States.

TD is for tetanus and diphtheria. It doesn’t guard against pertussis. This immunization is often just called a “tetanus shot.” You might have this shot as a booster every ten years, or you might receive the shot because of a cut or other injury likely to lead to tetanus.

TDAP protects against all three diseases. It is given to adults. You can have a dose of TDAP regardless of when you had your last dose of TD. Adults who were not as vaccinated with DTaP as children should have a dose of TDAP as soon as possible, and can then continue to receive booster shots every ten years.

Check with your primary care physician or internal medicine physician to see which vaccines you need. 

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