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Immunization

Diphtheria, tetanus, acellular pertussis (dTap) vaccine

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​​​​​​​​​Immunization protects you from disease.
​​Get protected, get immunized.

  • Vaccines make your immune system stronger. They build antibodies to help prevent diseases.
  • Immunization is safe. It is much safer to get immunized than to get these diseases.​

What is the dTap vaccine?

This vaccine gets its name from the diseases it protects against: diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (whooping cough).

Who should have the dTap vaccine?

Grade 9 students get the dTap vaccine in school. Younger children may also get this vaccine if they are at least age 7 years and:

  • they're not up to date with their diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis immunizations or
  • they cut or poke themselves with something dirty

If your child gets a dTap vaccine early and they’re at least age 12 years, they don’t need to get a dose of the vaccine in Grade 9.

If you’re an adult, you should have this vaccine if:

  • you’ve never been immunized for diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis
  • it’s been 10 years since your last dose
  • you’re pregnant (even if it’s been less than 10 years since your last dose)

In Alberta, a dTap vaccine is recommended in every pregnancy. It’ll help protect your baby during their first few months of life, especially against pertussis. You usually get the dTap vaccine between 27 and 32 weeks of pregnancy. If you’re pregnant and outside of this time frame, talk to your healthcare provider about when you should get this vaccine.

How many doses do I need?

If you received your routine immunizations when they’re recommended (on schedule) you need an extra dose (booster) of dTap:

  • in Grade 9
  • every 10 years as an adult
  • during each pregnancy

If you’re getting immunized for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis for the first time, you need 3 doses.

How well does the vaccine work?

If you’re healthy and get all of the recommended doses, the protection is:

  • almost 100% for diphtheria and tetanus
  • around 90% for pertussis

It’s important to get booster doses because the protection may weaken over time.

Where can I get the dTap vaccine?

Grade 9 students can get the vaccine in school. Parents and guardians will get information about tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis and the vaccine. If you want your child to get the vaccine in school, you must fill out the consent form and return it to the school.

Children can also get the dTap vaccine at their local public health office.

Adults can get the dTap vaccine at a public health office. If you’re pregnant, you can also get the dTap vaccine at a pharmacy.

If you’re at risk for tetanus after an injury or wound, you may also get the dTap vaccine at an urgent care centre, emergency department, doctor’s office, or walk-in clinic.

Are there side effects from the dTap vaccine?

There can be side effects from the dTap vaccine, but they tend to be mild and go away in a few days. Side effects may include:

  • redness, swelling, or feeling sore where you had the needle
  • feeling tired or getting upset easily
  • headache
  • dizziness
  • fever or chills
  • body aches or sore joints
  • not feeling hungry or not wanting to eat (poor appetite)
  • feeling sick to your stomach (nausea), vomiting, or loose stool (diarrhea)
  • rash
  • swollen lymph nodes

It’s important to stay at the clinic for 15 minutes after your vaccine. Some people may have a rare but serious allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. If anaphylaxis happens, you will get medicine to treat the symptoms.

It’s rare to have a serious side effect after a vaccine. Call Health Link at 811 to report any serious or unusual side effects.

How can I manage side effects?

  • To help with soreness and swelling, put a cool, wet cloth over the area where you had the needle.
  • There is medicine to help with fever or pain. Check with your doctor or pharmacist if you’re not sure what medicine or dosage to take. Follow the directions on the package.
  • Children under the age of 18 years should not take aspirin because it can cause serious health problems.
  • Some people with health problems, such as a weak immune system, must call their doctor if they get a fever. If you’ve been told to do this, call your doctor even if you think the fever is from the vaccine.

Who should not have the dTap vaccine?

You may not be able to have the vaccine if you:

  • have an allergy to parts of the vaccine
  • had a severe or unusual side effect after this vaccine or one like it

Check with your doctor or public health nurse before you get the vaccine.

You can still have the vaccine if you have a mild illness, such as a cold or fever. Always tell your healthcare provider if you have allergies or if you have had a side effect from a vaccine in the past.

Facts about diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis

What is diphtheria?
Diphtheria is a nose and throat infection caused by bacteria. It’s spread by coughing, sneezing, or close contact with an infected person. It can cause trouble breathing or swallowing, heart failure, and paralysis.​​

One out of 10 people who get diphtheria will die.

What is tetanus?
Tetanus is a bacterial infection that causes uncontrolled movements (spasms) in the muscles of the jaw and other muscles of the body. Tetanus bacteria are common in dirt, manure (animal stool), and human stool. They can get into​ the body through a cut on the skin or an animal bite.

Tetanus can cause:

  • a condition called lock jaw where the mouth stays closed and can’t open widely
  • trouble breathing, seizures, and death

Getting tetanus is rare because there has been a vaccine since the 1940s. Most people have been immunized against it.

Go to the tetanus page on MyHealth.Alberta.ca to find out more.

What is pertussis?
Pertussis is an infection of the airways caused by bacteria. Its spread by coughing, sneezing, or contact with an infected person. Pertussis can cause:

  • coughing spells that can last for months
  • a hard time eating, drinking, and breathing (especially for babies)
  • pneumonia

In rare cases pertussis can lead to seizures, brain injury, and death.

Go to the pertussis page on MyHealth.Alberta.ca to find out more.

More information

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Current as of: January 1, 2021

Author: Provincial Immunization Program, Alberta Health Services