The Tdap vaccine for tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis was licensed in 2005, but most people have not yet heard about it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended that this vaccination replace the previous tetanus or tetanus plus diphtheria vaccinations given once every 10 years for persons aged 10 to 64 years. The CDC reported on October 15, 2010, that adults in the United States have inadequate rates of Tdap vaccination.
Tetanus is a rare but devastating bacterial disease also known as lockjaw. Vaccination is common among children, but often neglected for adults. Booster shots every 10 years are recommended, but have not often been implemented since the 1940's.
Pertussis is a more common bacterial disease also known as whooping cough. The CDC paper reported 13,278 cases in 2008. This number is an underestimate, the authors explain, because whooping cough has symptoms similar to other respiratory infections in adults and often goes undiagnosed. Children are commonly vaccinated by the age of 6 months, but younger infants are at risk of catching the disease from adults whose vaccinations are not up-to-date.
Diphtheria is another bacterial infection of the upper respiratory system that can also affect the heart, kidneys and nervous system. United States residents who travel to other parts of the world without current vaccinations are at particular risk.
For adults age 18 and over, the CDC estimated that only 61.6 percent were adequately covered by tetanus vaccinations in 2008. In the age group eligible for the Tdap vaccine, only 5.9 percent were covered. Coverage for both vaccines (tetanus alone or the combination Tdap) was higher for those who were younger, better educated and of higher income.
The CDC authors encouraged health care providers to discuss the Tdap vaccine with patients. Anyone age 18 to 64 whose last tetanus shot was more than 10 years ago is a candidate for Tdap. Adults with infant contact and health care providers with direct patient contact are candidates for Tdap at intervals as short as 2 years after the last tetanus shot.