Tetanus (Lockjaw)

Why vaccinate adults against tetanus?

  • The bacteria that cause tetanus are ubiquitous in soil; any lapse in immunity can create an opportunity for infection.
  • Approximately 10 to 20 percent of reported cases of tetanus are fatal.
  • In the US, where 50 or fewer cases of tetanus occur each year, deaths are more likely to occur in persons 60 years of age and older and in persons who are diabetic.
  • For adults, a tetanus booster every 10 years ensures protection against tetanus; the new Tdap booster provides protection not only against tetanus, but also against diphtheria and pertussis.
  • Because of the rise in US pertussis cases, some people should not wait 10 years to get their Tdap booster.
  • Pregnant women especially need Tdap vaccine because of the protection it provides against whooping cough.  They should get it late in the second trimester or in the third trimester.

Which adults need tetanus vaccine?

  • All adults need a tetanus booster vaccine every 10 years.
    Tetanus booster is available in combination with diphtheria (Td vaccine) or diphtheria and pertussis (Tdap vaccine).
  • Adults should get Tdap once and then Td every 10 years after.
  • Pregnant women especially should get the Tdap vaccine because of the protection it provides against whooping cough.
 Did you know...
almost all cases of tetanus occur in people who have never been immunized or who have not had a tetanus booster shot within the preceding 10 years?

What happens when someone gets tetanus?
  • Tetanus causes “lockjaw” and spasms or paralysis of other muscles in the body.
  • Up to two in 10 people who get tetanus will die from it.
  • People with tetanus may spend weeks in intensive care and frequently need to be on a ventilator.

Why is tetanus vaccine important?

  • Almost all reported tetanus cases are in people who were never vaccinated or who have not had their booster every 10 years.
  • The bacteria that cause tetanus are found all around us in soil, dust, and manure..

FAQ: My doctor told me I shouldn't wait 10 years before I get my Tdap vaccine. Why is that?
The pertussis part of the Tdap vaccine protects against whooping cough, which has been on the rise in the US. By immunizing adults and older children, we can help protect newborns they come in contact with. Whooping cough is especially dangerous for newborns who can’t start their own vaccines until they are two months old. If you never had a Tdap vaccine, you can get one immediately, even if it’s within 10 years of your last Td vaccine.