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Tetanus disease & vaccine quick facts

Updated May 04, 2024



tetanus vaccine

Tetanus 

  • Tetanus, often referred to as lockjaw, is caused by the Clostridium tetani bacteria and can be found in soil, manure, and even in the digestive tracts of animals and humans. Tetanus has also been reported in contaminated heroin as well as on skin surfaces.  Tetanus bacteria do not survive in the presence of oxygen, but are quite resistant to most chemicals and even heat. 
  • Tetanus is not contagious and cannot be transmitted from person to person.  Tetanus bacteria can enter the body when a person sustains a deep cut or puncture wound like an animal bite, or even a burn.  Rarely, it can also occur following abortions, elective surgeries, ear infections, pregnancy, dental infections, and crush wounds.  Wounds that do not bleed very much and are protected by tissue and skin from exposure to oxygen can create an environment for a tetanus infection. 
  • The incubation period for tetanus infection ranges from three days to three weeks, from exposure to the appearance of the first symptoms.  Initial symptoms include muscular stiffness of the jaw and neck, headache, seizures, changes in heart rate and blood pressure, fever, and chills. Complications include fractures, vocal cord spasms, impaired breathing, pulmonary embolism, pneumonia, infections acquired in the hospital during the course of treatment, and death.  Those at higher risk for tetanus are diabetics, individuals with a history of immunosuppression, and IV drug users. 
  • Prior to the introduction of tetanus vaccine in the late 1940s, reported tetanus-related deaths in the U.S. dramatically declined. Factors contributing to the decline include improvements in wound care, use of tetanus immune globulin (TIG), and decreases in exposure due to population movement from rural to urban environments. 
  • In the U.S. between 2009 and 2017, 264 cases of tetanus and 19 tetanus-related deaths were reported. During this timeframe, all deaths occurred in persons over the age 55, with a comorbidity of diabetes accounting for 12 percent of all cases and 26 percent of all deaths. Intravenous drug users accounted for 8 percent of all cases.  In 2017, 33 tetanus cases were reported with two related deaths.  Neonatal death from tetanus primarily occurs in underdeveloped countries where newborns are exposed to tetanus for unsanitary conditions during the birth process and is virtually nonexistent in the U.S. 

Tetanus Vaccine 

  • There are 10 different tetanus-containing vaccines available for use in the U.S. These combination vaccines may also contain one or more of the following vaccines: pertussis, diphtheria, hepatitis B, Hib, and polio. For adults, there are three tetanus combination vaccines available with one vaccine containing both tetanus and diphtheria toxoids approved for use in adults and children ages seven years and older and two vaccines containing tetanus and diphtheria toxoid and acellular pertussis approved for use in children and adults ages ten years and older. 
  • According to the CDC, common tetanus vaccine reactions include injection-site redness, pain, and swelling at the injection site. However, if the pain and swelling are significant and extend from the shoulder to the elbow, the CDC warns that additional tetanus toxoid vaccine doses should not be administered more frequently than every ten years.  Additional serious reported side effects following tetanus toxoid vaccination include anaphylaxis,    brachial neuritis,  Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS),    acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM),  arthritis,    and myocarditis. 
  • As of May 1, 2024, there have been 6,714 claims filed in the federal Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) for injuries and deaths following vaccination with tetanus or tetanus-containing vaccines combined with additional vaccines, including 884 deaths and 5,830 serious injuries.
  • Using the MedAlerts search engine, as of April 26, 2024, there have been 208,805 adverse events reported to the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) in connection with tetanus and tetanus-containing vaccines combined with additional vaccines since 1990. Over 60 percent of tetanus vaccine-related adverse events occur in children six years old and under. Of these tetanus-vaccine related adverse event reports to VAERS, 3,198 were deaths, with nearly 86 percent occurring in children under six years of age. Reported tetanus vaccine adverse events reported to VAERS include redness, swelling, and pain at the injection site; headache; fatigue, sore and swollen joints; muscle weakness; fever; chills; nausea; shock; neuropathy; convulsions; encephalopathy; paralysis; Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS); and death.

NVIC “Quick Facts” is not a substitute for becoming fully informed about Tetanus and the Tetanus vaccine. NVIC recommends consumers read the more complete information following the "Quick Facts", as well as the vaccine manufacturer product information inserts, and speak with one or more trusted health care professionals before making a vaccination decision for yourself or your child.

Food & Drug Administration (FDA) 

  • Infanrix, a 3 in 1 combination shot containing diphtheria, tetanus toxoids, and acellular pertussis vaccine for children under 7 years of age. It is manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline.
  • Daptacel, a 3 in 1 combination shot containing diphtheria and tetanus toxoids and acellular pertussis vaccine for children under 7 years of age. It is manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur Ltd.
  • Pediarix, a 5 in 1 combination shot containing diphtheria and tetanus toxoids and acellular pertussis, hepatitis B recombinant and inactivated poliovirus vaccines for children under 7 years of age. It is manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline.
  • Kinrix, a 4 in 1 combination vaccine containing diphtheria and tetanus toxoids, acellular pertussis and inactivated poliovirus vaccines for children 4 to 6 years old. It is manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline.
  • Quadracel, a 4 in 1 combination vaccine containing diphtheria and tetanus toxoid, acellular pertussis and inactivated poliovirus vaccine for children 4 to 6 years old. It is manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur
  • Pentacel, a 5 in 1 combination shot containing diphtheria and tetanus toxoids and acellular pertussis, inactivated poliovirus and Haemophilus b conjugate (tetanus toxoid conjugate) vaccines for children under four years old. It is manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur Ltd.
  • VAXELIS, a 6 in 1 combination shot containing diphtheria and tetanus toxoids and acellular pertussis, inactivated Poliovirus, Haemophilus b Conjugate (Meningococcal Protein Conjugate) and Hepatitis B (Recombinant) Vaccine for children 6 weeks through 4 years of age. It is manufactured by MCM Vaccine Company
  • Diphtheria and Tetanus Toxoids Adsorbed, a 2 in 1 combination shot containing diphtheria and tetanus toxoid vaccine for children under 7 years of age. It is manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur Inc
  • Adacel, a 3 in 1 combination booster shot containing tetanus toxoid, reduced diphtheria toxoid, and acellular pertussis vaccine for those 10 years or older. It is manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur Ltd.
  • Boostrix, a 3 in 1 combination booster shot containing tetanus toxoid, reduced diphtheria toxoid and acellular pertussis vaccine for those 10 years or older. It is manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline.
  • TDVAX, a 2 in 1 combination vaccine containing tetanus and diphtheria toxoid for those 7 years of age and older. It is manufactured by MassBiologics.
  • TENIVAC, a 2 in 1 combination vaccine containing tetanus and diphtheria toxoid for those 7 years of age and older. It is manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur Ltd

Centers for Disease Control (CDC)

National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases (NIAID)

Vaccine Reaction Symptoms & Ingredients

Our Ask 8, If You Vaccinate webpage contains vaccine reaction symptoms and more.

Search for Vaccine Reactions

NVIC hosts MedAlerts, a powerful VAERS database search engine. MedAlerts examines symptoms, reactions, vaccines, dates, places, and more.

Reporting a Vaccine Reaction

Since 1982 NVIC has operated a Vaccine Reaction Registry, which has served as a watchdog on VAERS. Reporting vaccine reactions to VAERS is the law. If your doctor will not report a reaction, you have the right to report a suspected vaccine reaction to VAERS.

IMPORTANT NOTE: NVIC encourages you to become fully informed about Tetanus and the Tetanus vaccine by reading all sections in the Table of Contents , which contain many links and resources such as the manufacturer product information inserts, and to speak with one or more trusted health care professionals before making a vaccination decision for yourself or your child. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice.


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