So What’s the Big Whoop with the Tetanus Vaccine?

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By Hallie Hudson, PharmD, TTS

You have probably heard of a routine vaccine referred to as the tetanus shot. The tetanus shot is available as two different vaccine products: Td vaccine (Tenivac®) and Tdap vaccine (Adacel® or Boostrix®). The Tdap vaccine not only protects you against tetanus and diphtheria (like the Td vaccine), but it also protects you and those around you from a disease you have probably heard of called whooping cough.

What is whooping cough?

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a highly contagious disease that affects the lungs. However, whooping cough can be prevented by receiving the tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis vaccine, also known as Tdap in adults or DTaP in children.

What are the symptoms?

Many people who spread whooping cough do not even know that they have it. The symptoms of whooping cough change as the disease progresses and symptoms are often different between adults and children or infants.

Stage 1: During the first stage, symptoms often include a runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing, occasional cough, and a mild fever. As you can see, these symptoms resemble those of the common cold. This is the only stage that an antibiotic may stop the progression of whooping cough. This stage typically lasts for about one to two weeks.

Stage 2: The second stage can last anywhere from 1 to 10 weeks. Coughing during this stage may be intense and drawn out. The coughing attacks tend to occur more often at night. You may notice a high-pitched “whoop”, which is caused by inhaling between coughs.

In newborn babies and infants, the cough may be minimal or absent, and the main symptom is a temporary pause in breathing.

Stage 3: The third stage can last for weeks or months and is characterized by a chronic cough. The coughing attacks are fewer and less intense as compared to that of stage two.

Who should get the vaccine to protect against whooping cough?

  • People of any age can get whopping cough; however, babies too young to receive the vaccine are at the highest risk for the potentially life-threatening illness. In infants, complications can include pneumonia, seizures, brain disorders, hospitalization, and potentially death.

  • All adults age 19 years and older need a one-time whooping cough booster vaccine, which is the Tdap vaccine (Adacel® or Boostrix®). Once an adult gets the Tdap vaccine, they should get the Td booster every 10 years.

  • Pregnant women should receive the Tdap vaccine during each pregnancy (preferably during 27 to 36 weeks gestation). This helps provide the baby with short-term protection until he or she can receive their own vaccine to protect against whooping cough.

  • If you will be in close contact with a newborn or infant, you can help protect he or she from whooping cough by making sure that you are vaccinated at least two weeks before coming in close contact with them. By getting your vaccine two weeks before contact, you give your body enough time to build protection against whooping cough.

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So, what should you do if you are not up-to-date on the whooping cough vaccine?

If you are 18 years or older, and you are not up-to-date, talk to your pharmacist about the Tdap vaccine and schedule a time to get your vaccine at the pharmacy. You do not need a prescription from your doctor to receive this vaccine at one of our pharmacy locations.



1.        Pertussis (Whooping Cough): Signs and Symptoms. Accessed January 25, 2019.

2.        Pregnancy and Whooping Cough. Accessed January 25, 2019.

3.        Whooping Cough Vaccination. Accessed January 25, 2019.

Hallie Hudson, PharmD