Tetanus / Diphtheria / Pertussis

(See VUMC Vaccination Policy requirements further down this page.)

Tetanus booster vaccines are available in two forms. The traditional Td vaccine protects against tetanus and diphtheria. The Tdap vaccine protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough). CDC recommends that after the initial childhood DTP/DTaP series, everyone get a booster every 10 years, starting with a Tdap. After that, boosters can be in the form of a plain Td vaccine unless the person needs extra pertussis protection. For example, women who become pregnant should get another Tdap booster with each pregnancy.

Occupational Health offers Tdap vaccines at no charge if it is needed to meet VUMC immunization compliance requirements. Td is available through Occupational Health for work related injuries. Elective vaccinations are available and will be charged to personal insurance. 

Tetanus (lockjaw) is a serious disease causing stiffness of the neck and jaw muscles, and can be fatal. The tetanus germ usually enters the body through a contaminated cut or wound.

Diphtheria (trench mouth) causes a severe illness characterized by a thick coating of the nose, throat, and airway, and is spread by contact with infected persons.

Pertussis (whooping cough) causes an illness characterized by severe coughing fits. Pertussis is spread by respiratory droplets from infected persons. Infants who have not yet completed their childhood vaccination series are the most susceptible to pertussis infection. For these tiny people, the condition can be life threatening.


  • After the initial childhood vaccine series, everyone needs one tetanus shot every ten years.

  • One of these boosters should be in the form of Tdap, with the added protection against pertussis.

  • For a puncture wound or deep cut, if it's been over five years since your last shot, get an early booster.

Check your records!

VUMC Immunization Policy Requirements:

Starting September 1, 2016, VUMC faculty and staff working in pediatrics, women's health, and emergency departments are required to document receipt of one dose of Tdap. The policy is targeted to areas where patients are at highest risk of having pertussis or dying from its complications.

The VUMC requirement does not extend to routine Td boosters because it's pertussis which is a risk in the healthcare setting - tetanus and diphtheria are not. Faculty and staff are considered compliant if they have received one dose of Tdap in their lifetime, and that vaccination record is on file with the Occupational Health Clinic.

If you are in the group of employees covered by the new requirement, you will see a compliance status for Pertussis displayed on the Occupational Health Status page in your Health and Wellness Information Portal.

If you've received a Tdap vaccine from a VUMC clinic, click here to give OHC permission to view your medical record for the sole purpose of documenting Tdap vaccine compliance.

If you've received a Tdap vaccine from an outside vaccinating entity (e.g., a local drug store), click here to upload documentation from the outside vaccinating entity or fax your documentation to OHC at 615-936-0966.

To receive a Tdap vaccine, come to the Occupational Health Clinic or to one of our OHC Comes To You events.

If you are unable to take the Tdap vaccine and work in an area where it is required, you may request an exemption here.


  • Why is this required? This is to protect both our employees and our patients. Each year dozens of employees - especially in pediatrics and emergency areas - get exposed to pertussis. Vaccination reduces the chance you'll get sick. Also, there have been well-documented cases in which caregivers have transmitted pertussis to infants, and we don't want that to happen here.
  • Why is it only required in some areas? These are the primary areas where patients with pertussis or vulnerable newborns are seen. In the future the policy may expand in scope, but the immediate need is to protect the highest risk areas first.
  • I had whooping cough already - do I still need a Tdap vaccine? Yes, the CDC recommends taking the vaccine regardless of disease history. This is because the duration of protection induced by pertussis disease is unknown (waning might begin as early as 7 years after infection) and because the diagnosis of pertussis can be difficult to confirm.
  • I've had a blood test that shows I have immunity to pertussis. Do I need a Tdap vaccine? Yes, the CDC recommends taking the vaccine regardless of disease history or previous diagnostic test results. This is because the duration of protection induced by pertussis disease is unknown (waning might begin as early as 7 years after infection.)
  • How can I check to see if I'm required to have a Tdap? Log in to the Health and Wellness Information Portal and look at the Occupational Health Status page. If Pertussis is listed in your hazard programs, you're in the group required to have a Tdap. You'll also see your compliance status listed.
  • What's the difference between Tdap and DTaP? DTP and DTaP are given in the childhood vaccine series while Tdap is an adolescent or adult booster. The capital letter P in the childhood vaccines indicate that they contain a higher dose of pertussis vaccine than Tdap does.
  • Why are you not counting the Tdap vaccine I had before May 2005? Tdap was first licensed on 5/3/2005. If you have an immunization record indicating that you received a Tdap prior to that date, it is an error because Tdap did not exist at that time.
  • I had a Tdap more than 10 years ago. Do I need another one? No, you just need one dose of Tdap unless you have a special risk. For instance, women should get another Tdap booster with every pregnancy.
  • Can I get a plain pertussis vaccine without the tetanus or diphtheria part? No, the only formulation for a pertussis booster available is the Tdap.
  • The CDC says to take Tdap when you are 11 or 12 years old, but I never had it then. Am I too old to get it now? It's not too late and it's safe to get the Tdap as an adult.
  • Can I take Tdap in pregnancy? Yes, in fact it is recommended that you get a Tdap with every pregnancy.
  • Is it OK to get a Tdap if I had a regular Td recently ? If you've never had a Tdap before you should get it regardless of when your last tetanus booster was. Taking two doses of tetanus vaccine close together does mean you are more likely to have mild local reactions, like redness, soreness, warmth and tenderness at the injection site. This is not dangerous but it can be alarming if you aren't expecting it.

Additional information:

Tetanus vaccine information sheet

Keywords: Td, Tdap, Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussis, immunization, inoculation, shot, vaccination