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Tdap Vaccine for Preteens and Teens

The Vaccine: Tdap

Tdap vaccine is recommended for preteens at ages 11 or 12 years for protection against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough). Protection provided by the DTaP vaccine received in childhood wears off as kids get older, so preteens and teens need a booster shot known as Tdap. Getting this booster not only protects preteens and teens, but also the people around them—especially little babies and elders. Those 13-18 year olds who haven't gotten the Tdap shot yet should talk with their parents and their doctor about getting it now.

To learn more about who should and should not get this vaccine, when they should be vaccinated, and the risks and benefits of this vaccine, consult the Tdap vaccine information statement.

The Diseases: Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Pertussis


Getting a body piercing?

If you decide to get a body piercing, make sure you're up to date with your immunizations (especially tetanus and hepatitis B)

Tetanus is a serious disease caused by a toxin (poison) made by bacteria that’s commonly found in soil. Tetanus does not spread from person to person. The bacteria enter the body through breaks in the skin – usually cuts or puncture wounds. About 3 weeks after exposure, a child might get a headache, become cranky, and have spasms in the jaw muscle (why this disease is often called "lockjaw"). The bacteria can then produce a toxin that spreads through the body causing the painful symptoms of tetanus. The muscle spasms can be strong enough to break a child's bones, cause breathing problems and paralysis (unable to move parts of the body). And, a child might have to spend several weeks in the hospital under intensive care. Tetanus is very dangerous.


Diphtheria is a serious disease that spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes. A person can spread the disease for up to 2 weeks after infection. Diphtheria starts with sore throat, mild fever (101 degrees or less) and chills. It causes a thick coating in the back of the nose or throat that makes it hard to breathe or swallow. The diphtheria toxin can attack the heart, causing abnormal heart rhythms and even heart failure. It can also attack the nerves, which leads to paralysis (unable to move parts of the body). About 1 out of 10 people who get diphtheria will die.


Protect siblings too

Vaccination against pertussis (whooping cough) is recommended for preteens and teens because the immunization they received as children begins to wear off. This makes preteens and teens more vulnerable to becoming infected with pertussis. Because very young infants are not fully protected, preteens and teens with pertussis can unintentionally spread it to infants around them.[1]

Pertussis—commonly referred to as whooping cough—is very contagious and can cause prolonged, sometimes extreme, coughing. While preteens and teens usually do not get as sick from pertussis as young children, coughing fits can still take place for 10 weeks or more. The prolonged illness can cause lengthy disruptions in school and other activities, and even hospitalization. Pertussis spreads easily through the air when an infected person breathes, coughs, or sneezes. A person can spread the disease while he or she has cold-like symptoms and for about 2 weeks after coughing starts.

Pertussis is a common respiratory disease in U.S. teens.

See also:

  • Pertussis web site
    Learn the causes, transmission, signs and symptoms, complications, diagnosis, treatment, prevention and see photos of this disease.
  • Podcast on disease and vaccine (4:22 minutes, Date Released: 8/7/2008)
    Listen to learn about pertussis and the Tdap vaccine recommendations for adolescents.

Pertussis Outbreaks

Since the 1980s, there's been an increase in the number of cases of pertussis, especially among preteens and teens (10–19 years of age) and babies younger than 6 months of age. In 2010, there were 27,550 reported cases of pertussis nationally. Preliminary data for 2010 show that 26 deaths from pertussis were reported. In 2010, several states reported an increase in cases and/or localized outbreaks of pertussis, including a state-wide epidemic in California. To learn more, check out the pertussis outbreaks page.

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