DPT vaccine

What is Diphtheria, Pertussis and Tetanus?

Diphtheria is a serious illness caused due to bacteria. It results in a thick covering at the back of throat and causes fever, difficulty in swallowing, sore throat.¹ The illness further results in breathing problems, paralysis, heart failure, and even death.

Pertussis also known as whooping cough is an illness that results in coughing spells in children. The coughing is so bad that it may become difficult for the child to eat, drink and even breathe. It may further lead to pneumonia, seizures (jerking movements), brain damage and death.²

Tetanus (lockjaw) leads to painful tightening of all the muscles in the body. Due to this muscle tightening, the person may not even be able to open the mouth or swallow.³ In up to 2 out of 10 people, tetanus may even cause death.

DPT vaccine can provide protection against the 3 deadly diseases - diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus and prevent the child from contracting these diseases.

How are these diseases spread?

Diphtheria & Pertussis are spread from person to person through air.² Tetanus is spread when the person gets injured, through cuts and wounds.³

What is the DPT vaccine?

The vaccine is given in the form of shots in the arm. It is known as DTaP vaccine. 0.5 ml of inactivated/ killed vaccine is given in the arm of the child.

How is the DTap vaccine different from Tdap?

Both these vaccines are made up of the inactivated or killed bacteria that cause the 3 diseases- diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus. Inactivated means it can no longer produce the disease but triggers the body to create antibodies that provide immunity so the person does not get the diseases. Tdap has reduced dose of diphtheria and pertussis vaccines and it generally boosts the immunity after a person has already been vaccinated.

Immunity wanes with time. When a child is vaccinated with DTaP vaccine when he or she is 4-6 years old, this immunity wears off with time and that’s when a booster is needed, which is given in form of Tdap vaccine.8 9

Who should get the vaccine?

Children up to 6-7 years of age should get the DTaP vaccine. Adults and adolescents or children above 7 years of age should not get the DTaP vaccine.

But, adults also need protection from these deadly diseases. A vaccine Tdap is similar to DTaP vaccine. A single dose of this vaccine should be given to people from 11 through 46 years of age.4 6 Pregnant women should also get the Tdap vaccine, preferably between 27 and 36 weeks’ gestation.5 6

There is another vaccine, Td that provides protection against diphtheria & tetanus, but not pertussis.

The Tdap vaccine should be given to people from the age group 11-46 years and single dose is generally enough to provide protection.6

Td vaccine is generally recommended every 10 years.

How effective is the vaccine?

In general, the DTaP vaccines are effective for 8 to 9 out of 10 children who receive them. For those who get all the doses of the vaccine, the efficacy is very good within the 1st year after the 5th dose is given; nearly all children are fully protected. With every year, the efficacy of vaccine goes on reducing. Therefore, booster doses are needed so as to be fully protected.

Are there any side effects?10

Getting diphtheria, pertussis or tetanus is more dangerous than getting vaccinated with DTaP vaccine.

The DTaP vaccine is a preventive medicine and like any other medicine, it has some problems associated with it.
The minor side effects may include:

  • Fever
  • Swelling or redness at the site where the injection is given
  • Soreness or tenderness where the injection is given

Some other mild side effects can be:

  • Tiredness or the child may not want to eat
  • Some children may become fussy after being vaccinated
  • Some may complain of vomiting

Some other least common side effects include:

  • Seizures or jerking movements¹¹
  • Non-stop crying for hours together
  • High fever up to 105°F

However, these are quite uncommon side effects. 1 out of 15,000 children would experience them.¹²
Some very rare side effects include:

  • Severe allergic reaction to the vaccine
  • Permanent brain damage


1 BMJ Case Rep. 2017 Mar 6;2017. pii: bcr2016218408.

2 Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2015 Feb 15;191(4):P5-6.

3 Pan Afr Med J. 2016 Oct 24;25:108.

4 Vaccine. 2008 Jul 23;26(31):3903-8.

5 Vaccine. 2016 Jan 2;34(1):179-86.

6 Hum Vaccin Immunother. 2015;11(7):1744-7.

7 Bull World Health Organ. 1985;63(6):1151-69.

8 Am J Public Health. 2015 Sep;105(9):e42-7.

9 J Infect Dis. 2014 Sep 15;210(6):942-53.

10 Southeast Asian J Trop Med Public Health. 2015 Jul;46(4):764-74.

11 Neurology. 2015 Aug 18;85(7):596-603.

12 https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/vis/vis-statements/dtap.html