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  • Robert Preidt
  • Posted February 26, 2020

Study Casts Doubt on Need for Adult Boosters for Tetanus, Diphtheria

Countering a U.S. government advisory, a new study suggests that adults may not need regular booster shots for tetanus and diphtheria if they received a complete vaccination series as children.

Researchers compared data gathered from millions of people in 31 countries in North America and Europe between 2001 and 2016. They found no significant differences in rates of the two diseases between countries that require adults to receive booster shots and those that don't.

However, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends that all adults receive booster shots every 10 years.

The new findings mesh with the World Health Organization's recent recommendation to only vaccinate adults for tetanus and diphtheria if they didn't have a full series of shots as children.

"To be clear, this study is pro-vaccine," said study lead researcher Mark Slifka, a professor in the molecular microbiology and immunology graduate program at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland.

"Everyone should get their series of tetanus and diphtheria shots when they're children. But once they have done that, our data indicates they should be protected for life," Slifka said in a university news release.

In the United States, reducing booster shots for adults could save about $1 billion a year in unnecessary medical costs, according to the researchers.

Tetanus, also known as lockjaw, is a bacterial infection that causes jaw cramping, painful muscle spasms, trouble swallowing and breathing, seizures and convulsions. Severe cases can result in death. About 30 people in the United States get tetanus each year.

Diphtheria is a bacterial infection that causes a thick covering in the back of the throat, which can lead to difficulty breathing, heart failure, paralysis or death. In the past decade, fewer than five U.S. cases of diphtheria were reported to the CDC.

Before vaccinations, the United States had about 470 tetanus-associated deaths and 1,800 deaths associated with diphtheria each year. Deaths from the diseases fell by more than 99% after introduction of vaccines.

The study was published Feb. 25 in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis) vaccination.

SOURCE: Oregon Health & Science University, news release, Feb. 25, 2020
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