DTap vaccinationDTap stands for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. Tetanus is an infection associated with injuries that break the skin, typically cuts and open wounds. Pertussis and diphtheria are contagious bacterial infections passed between people.

Why vaccinate?

The bacteria that cause diphtheria can grow a covering that clogs the back of the throat. The coating makes it difficult to breathe. Advanced cases can lead to heart failure, paralysis or death.

Lockjaw, another term for the tetanus infection, causes muscle pain and tightening of muscles all over the body. In certain cases, the jaw locks in place making it impossible to open the mouth to eat or drink. Death rate from the tetanus infection is about 20%. Whopping cough or pertussis typically infects infants and very young children. Bouts of coughing can make it difficult to breathe, eat, drink or sleep. The condition can last several weeks and may progress to pneumonia, brain damage, seizures and death.

The DTaP vaccination has reduced the infection rate dramatically. The DTaP vaccination replaced the DTP vaccination. DTP is no longer used to vaccinate children in the United States.

Vaccination Schedule

Doctors suggest children have five DTaP vaccinations between two months and six years of age. The schedule for the DTaP vaccination is:

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

The final vaccination is typically given at the check-up and physical appointment before starting kindergarten. DTaP can be administered with other vaccinations. The schedule may be altered in children who need to catch-up on missed vaccinations, but the final vaccination is required before starting school, in most cases.

Risks of the Vaccination

The most common side effects of DTaP vaccination are pain, redness and slight swelling at the place where the vaccination was injected. A fever may develop, though giving children a non-aspirin fever reducer before the vaccination and as instructed on the bottle for 24 hours following vaccination reduces the risk of fever. Fatigue, nausea/vomiting and fussiness may also occur, though rarely.

More severe side effects may include seizure, high fever, allergic reaction, or brain damage. These side effects are extremely rare.

Signs Your Child Should Wait to Get Vaccinated

Moderate to severe illness, high fever and history of moderate to severe side effects to a previous DTaP vaccination are reasons NOT to be vaccinated. Talk with your physician about how to proceed with the vaccination schedule in these cases. DT, a vaccination for diphetheria and tetanus, may be a viable alternative for some children who have experienced moderate to severe side effects to DTaP.

Can Older Children/Adults be Vaccinated?

DTaP is only available to children younger than seven. If a child older than seven needs additional protection, a Tdap vaccination can be administered between 11 and 64 years of age. Tdap is similar to DTaP. Td, a tetanus/diphtheria vaccination is suggested every 10 years to maintain protection against these infections.

What Should I Do If My Child Has a Reaction?

Non-aspirin fever reducing/pain medications can be given for mild symptoms, as directed by a physician. If the child experiences moderate to severe symptoms, seek medical attention.