In the Spotlight

Updated Immunization Recommendations

Contributed by Ann Terri Murphy
National Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention

a veteran getting his shots

Most people get shots for tetanus (lockjaw) and diphtheria (an infection in the back of the throat that can lead to serious problems) as children. But protection for these diseases fades with time, so adults need booster shots. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and VA advise that most adults receive a Td (tetanus and diphtheria) booster every 10 years. For most people, one of these boosters should also include protection against pertussis (whooping cough). This vaccine is called Tdap. The booster shot Tdap can now be given earlier than the 10-year mark. Getting Tdap is especially important for adults who are around infants 12 months of age or younger. These young children may not yet have protection against pertussis from their baby shots. The best way to protect them is to be sure that adults who are around them do not spread the infection to them.

Here are the new recommendations:

  • If you are age 18-65 and you have not yet had a booster shot that included protection against pertussis, you may now get the Tdap vaccine. It does not matter when you last received the Td vaccine. It is very important to get the Tdap vaccine as soon as you can if:
    • You have (or will have) close contact with an infant or
    • You live in an area that is having an outbreak of pertussis
  • If you are 65 and older and you have not yet had a booster shot that included protection against pertussis, you should get the Tdap vaccine as soon as you can if:
    • You have (or will have) close contact with an infant or
    • You live in an area that is having an outbreak of pertussis

Note: If you are 65 and older, you do not need the Tdap vaccine if:

  • You do not think you will have close contact with an infant
  • You do not live in an area that is having an outbreak of pertussis

Whether you get the Tdap or not, you should continue to get Td vaccine every 10 years.

The main reason for the updated recommendations is to protect infants from pertussis by giving shots to adults. Pertussis is also known as 'whooping cough.' Pertussis is a highly contagious disease that can cause serious illness. Infants too young to be fully vaccinated are at a higher risk for getting the disease.

needle
child suffering from pertussis

The disease starts like the common cold. Symptoms may include a runny nose, sneezing, and maybe mild cough or fever. After 1-2 weeks, severe coughing can begin in some cases.

Pertussis is most severe for babies:

  • More than half of infants younger than 1 year of age who get the disease must be hospitalized.
  • About 1 in 5 infants with pertussis get pneumonia (lung infection).
  • In rare cases (1 in 100), pertussis can be deadly, especially in infants.
  • In 2009, there were nearly 17,000 reported cases in the United States, including 14 deaths from pertussis. In 2010, several states reported an increase in cases and/or outbreaks of pertussis. This included a statewide outbreak in California.

For more information, visit the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

Learn About

Pertussis (Whooping Cough) - What You Need To Know - offers an overview about the disease and provides helpful tips about what you need to know.


Updated/Reviewed: May 1, 2011