Young white woman getting a tetanus shot in arm

What is the tetanus shot?

By Andy Stergachis, PhD, BPharm Oct 19, 2022 • 5 min

The tetanus shot helps prevent tetanus, a serious infection caused by bacteria called Clostridium tetani. This bacteria can be found in dirt, dust and manure. It can enter the body through cuts, punctures, burns, bites or sores on the skin caused by contaminated objects. The bacteria produce a poison (toxin) that causes severe muscle cramping or spasms, trouble swallowing, breathing problems and, in some cases, death. While rare in the U.S., tetanus, sometimes called “lockjaw,” is a very serious, preventable disease. Nearly all cases of tetanus are in people who have never been vaccinated or did not get all the recommended tetanus vaccinations.

What is a tetanus shot for?

The tetanus shot is used to prevent tetanus infections.

How long does a tetanus shot last?

Protection from the tetanus shot decreases over time. Adults should get a tetanus booster shot every 10 years to maintain protection.

What is in a tetanus shot?

The tetanus shot is commonly combined with other vaccines to decrease the number of shots given. There are different combination shots used to prevent tetanus in infants, young children, school-age children and adults. The choice of vaccine is made by the provider, based on age and any history of a bad reaction to one or more of the vaccines. Four combination vaccines protect against tetanus and other diseases:

  • Diphtheria and tetanus (DT) shot protects young children from diphtheria and tetanus
  • Diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTaP) shot protects young children from diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, or whooping cough
  • Tetanus and diphtheria (Td) shot protects preteens, teens and adults from tetanus and diphtheria
  • Tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (Tdap) shot protects preteens, teens and adults from tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis

How often do you need a tetanus shot?

All adults who have never received a Tdap shot should get one, followed by a Td or Tdap shot every 10 years. A tetanus shot may be given earlier in the case of a deep cut or burn.

The Tdap vaccine is also recommended for all pregnant women during the third trimester of each pregnancy, regardless of whether they had the vaccine before, or when it was last given. It is also recommended for children and adults who will be around infants too young to be vaccinated against pertussis. 

When do kids get tetanus shots?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends five doses of the diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTaP) shot and one tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (Tdap) booster shot for children and preteens at the following ages:

  • 2 months: DTaP shot
  • 4 months: DTaP shot
  • 6 months: DTaP shot
  • 15 through 18 months: DTaP shot
  • 4 through 6 years: DTaP shot
  • 11 to 12 years: Tdap booster shot

If a child has had a serious reaction to the pertussis (whooping cough) part of the DTaP vaccine, they may be able to get the DT vaccine instead.

Who should get a tetanus shot?

The CDC recommends a tetanus shot for all infants, children, teens and adults to prevent tetanus.

Who should get a tetanus booster shot?

Adults need to get a tetanus booster shot every 10 years to stay protected. The tetanus booster shot may be given earlier in the case of a severe and dirty wound or burn. Booster doses can be either Tdap or Td.

What is the tetanus shot called?

There are several types of vaccines that protect against tetanus, as well as other diseases. Babies and children younger than 7 years old receive DTaP or DT, while older children and adults receive Tdap and Td.

Clinically reviewed and updated by Nancy Kupka, PhD, RN, October 2022.

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