Do You Need the Tetanus Vaccine?

Q. I’m 60 years old. Do I still need a tetanus shot every 10 years?

A. Although tetanus is rare in the United States, it’s not a disease you want to chance contracting. It occurs when you have a cut or a puncture wound that becomes infected with toxin-producing bacteria.

These toxins can cause a painful “locking” of the jaw and neck (lockjaw) that not only makes it difficult to swallow but can also affect breathing, cause seizures and paralysis, and may eventually be fatal.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, all adults should receive a tetanus booster shot, known as a Td vaccine, every decade. Immunity to tetanus may wane with advancing age, so it’s important to stay on top of your shots.

Individuals who have never received a tetanus shot should opt for the one-time vaccine that protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough all in one, known as Tdap.

A 2016 study conducted at Oregon Health & Science University appears to cast doubt on the need for tetanus vaccinations at 10-year intervals. Based on the high antibody levels of 546 subjects, the researchers determined that 95 percent of them would stay protected against tetanus up to 72 years after their last vaccination.

But, until more research is done, get your shot every 10 years or if you sustain a wound that may have exposed you to bacteria.

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HealthAfter50 was published by the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health, providing up-to-date, evidence-based research and expert advice on the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of a wide range of health conditions affecting adults in middle age and beyond. It was previously part of Remedy Health Media's network of digital and print publications, which also include HealthCentral; HIV/AIDS resources The Body and The Body Pro; the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter; and the Berkeley Wellness website. All content from HA50 merged into in 2018.