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Vaccines to Prevent Diphtheria

  • DTaP: Pediatric diphtheria, tetanus, and acellular pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine (SpanishSite exit disclaimer) (PDF - 141KB)
  • DT: Pediatric diphtheria and tetanus vaccine
  • Td: Older children and adults tetanus and diphtheria vaccine (SpanishSite exit disclaimer) (PDF - 287KB)
  • Tdap: Older children and adults tetanus, diphtheria, and acellular pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine (SpanishSite exit disclaimer) (PDF - 288KB)

There are four combination vaccines used to prevent diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (whooping cough): DTaP, Tdap, DT, and Td. Two of these (DTaP and DT) are given to children younger than seven years of age and two (Tdap and Td) are given to older children and adults. Talk to your doctor if you are unsure which vaccines you or your children have received in the past.

DTaP or DT

For Infants and Children

  • Children should get five doses of the diphtheria and tetanus toxoids and acellular pertussis (DTaP) vaccine, one dose at each of the following ages:
    • 2 months
    • 4 months
    • 6 months
    • 15 through 18 months
    • 4 through 6 years
  • DT does not contain pertussis and is used as a substitute for DTaP for children who cannot tolerate pertussis vaccine.
  • DTaP vaccine may be given at the same visit as other vaccines.
  • DTaP is not licensed for anyone over the age of six. Children older than six, adolescents, and adults may get a similar vaccine, Tdap or Td.

Td or Tdap

For Adolescents and Adults

  • Td is a tetanus-diphtheria vaccine given to adolescents and adults as a booster shot every 10 years, or after an exposure to tetanus under some circumstances. 
  • Tdap is similar to Td but also containing protection against pertussis. Tdap should be given as a one-time booster in place of Td. Tdap is especially important for those in close contact with infants.
  • Adolescents 11 through 18 years old (preferably at age 11-12 years old) and adults 19 years or older should receive a single dose of Tdap.
  • Tdap should also be given to 7- through 10-year-olds who are not fully immunized against pertussis. 
  • Pregnant women should receive a dose of Tdap during each pregnancy, preferably at 27 through 36 weeks to maximize that amount of protective antibodies passed to the baby, but the vaccine can be safely given at any time during pregnancy.
  • New mothers who have never gotten Tdap should get a dose as soon as possible after delivery.
  • Tdap can be given no matter when Td (tetanus-diphtheria vaccine) was last received.

Note: Upper-case letters in these abbreviations denote full-strength doses of diphtheria (D) and tetanus (T) toxoids and pertussis (P) vaccine. Lower-case “d” and “p” denote reduced doses of diphtheria and pertussis used in the adolescent/adult-formulations. The “a” in DTaP and Tdap stands for “acellular,” meaning that the pertussis component contains only a part of the pertussis organism.

Last reviewed: April 2015

What is Diphtheria?

Diphtheria is a respiratory disease caused by bacteria that causes a thick covering on the back of the throat.

Symptoms of diphtheria are:

  • Gradual onset of sore throat
  • Low-grade fever

It can lead to breathing problems, paralysis, heart failure, and even death.

Diphtheria is spread person-to-person by coughing and sneezing.

Who gets Diphtheria?

Everyone needs protection from diphtheria. Several thousand cases of diphtheria occur around the world every year. The United States averaged more than 175,000 cases of diphtheria each year before vaccines. Since vaccines have been available, diphtheria cases have fallen by over 99.9%.

Last reviewed: May 2016

Ready to get vaccinated?


Microscopic view of diphtheria.


Read more about diphtheria vaccines:

Going to get vaccinated:


  • Diphtheria is more common in some countries than others. Find out if you should be vaccinated before you travel abroad.