Adults don’t need tetanus or diphtheria booster shots; childhood vaccines last for life, study says

PORTLAND, Ore. — For many adults, booster shots are just another part of getting older. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends adults update their vaccinations every 10 years. A new study reveals some of those childhood vaccines could last a lot longer; making more shots unnecessary. Researchers from Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine say that’s the case with tetanus and diphtheria vaccines, which last for life.

The study estimates that eliminating unneeded booster shots could save the United States healthcare system $1 billion each year.

“To be clear, this study is pro-vaccine,” lead researcher Mark Slifka says in a media release. “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.”

Booster shots unnecessary?

Slifka previously released a study on adult booster shots in 2016. That paper said the vaccines probably had a lifespan of about 30 years and still recommended getting follow-up shots. The study looked at the health records for 546 adults to make its recommendation.

The new research compares the medical data of millions of people in 31 countries across North America and Europe from 2001 to 2016. Slifka says the study provides evidence showing no major difference between countries that require booster shots and those that don’t.

“Based on our new data, it turns out we were probably overly conservative back in 2016,” Slifka admits. “We now have evidence showing the childhood vaccination series can provide a lifetime of protection against both tetanus and diphtheria.”

What are tetanus and diphtheria?

Tetanus is a bacterial infection that causes jaw cramping, painful muscle spasms, and breathing problems. Serious cases can cause seizures, convulsions, and lead to death.

Also called lockjaw, the bacteria that causes the infection is probably best known for being found on metal nails, needles, or other rusted objects. It can also be spread by contaminated dirt or feces.

Diphtheria is another bacterial infection which causes a thick covering to develop in the throat. The infection can lead to breathing problems, heart failure, paralysis, and death. Unlike tetanus, diphtheria is spread by infected people or, in rare cases, animals.

Vaccines have made them extremely rare

Before childhood vaccinations were invented for these illnesses, 470 tetanus patients and 1,800 diphtheria patients would die in the U.S. each year.

Today, there are about 30 tetanus cases in the U.S. each year and less than 20 percent of them are fatal. For diphtheria, the CDC says there have only been about five cases in the last decade.

Researchers say the vast majority of tetanus or diphtheria-related deaths are found among people who are unvaccinated or have an incomplete vaccination history. Slifka’s new research points to the importance of childhood vaccinations; adding that once you have them (in some cases), you’re set for life.

The study appears in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.