Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Pertussis

What is tetanus?

Tetanus (lockjaw) is a serious disease caused by bacteria found in soil, dust and manure. A person can become infected with tetanus when the bacteria enters a cut or wound. Tetanus does not spread from person to person.

Tetanus can cause cramping of the muscles in the neck, arms, legs and stomach and painful convulsions severe enough to break bones. It may result in death.

What is diphtheria?

Diphtheria is a serious disease of the nose, throat and skin that causes sore throat, fever and chills.  It can also lead to breathing problems, heart failure and nerve damage.

Diphtheria is passed to others through coughing and sneezing. Antibiotic resistance makes diphtheria difficult to treat.

What is pertussis?

Pertussis (whooping cough) is a serious disease that spreads through coughing and sneezing. It  is most severe in babies and young children. Symptoms include violent coughing and vomiting, as well as difficulty breathing, eating and drinking.  

Serious complications of pertussis include pneumonia, brain damage and death. Pertussis can be treated with antibiotics.

Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Acellular Pertussis (Tdap) Vaccine

When the recommended number of shots are given:

  • over 95 per cent of people are protected against tetanus
  • over 85 per cent of people are protected against diphtheria
  • about 85 per cent of people are protected against pertussis

Vaccination also protects against severe illness.

Who should get the Tdap vaccine?

The Tdap vaccine is available for anyone seven years of age and older.

Adults who have close contact with children under one year of age should get the pertussis vaccine.

Pregnant women should get the vaccine during each pregnancy to protect their baby from pertussis. The Tdap vaccine is best given between 27–32 weeks of pregnancy.


In Ontario, Tdap vaccine is provided free of charge ten years after the 4–6 year tetanus shot. Adults are also eligible to receive one lifetime (publicly funded) dose of the vaccine. This lifetime dose replaces one Tetanus and adult diphtheria (Td) vaccine doses given every ten years.

Update personal immunization record or ”yellow card“ after every vaccination. Keep it in a safe place.

Who should not get the vaccine?
  • Anyone with a high fever or serious infection worse than a cold
  • Anyone who has had a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to a previous dose of diphtheria, tetanus or pertussis vaccine
  • Anyone with a serious allergy to any component of the (e.g., aluminum or 2-phenoxyethanol (preservative) or latex (in cap of preloaded syringe)
Side Effects

Most reactions are mild and last only a few days after getting the vaccine. Mild pain, swelling and redness are common at the site where the needle was given. Some people may get a mild fever, headache, muscle aches, loss of appetite or feel tired for a day or two after the Tdap vaccine.

You should seek immediate medical attention if you:

  •  develop hives
  •  experience swelling of the face or mouth
  •  have trouble breathing
  • Experience serious drowsiness or other serious problems

Contact Us