booster shot study tetanus

Booster Shot Study Drops Tetanus Vaccine Bombshell

A new booster shot study suggests that the current tetanus vaccine booster schedule may be severe overkill. Booster shots were previously thought to last just 10 years, but data from this new study indicates that immunity granted by the tetanus vaccine could last more than 30 years.

Tetanus, which is also colloquially referred to as lockjaw, isn’t something to brush off lightly. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 13 percent of those infected with tetanus will die as a result. Mortality can go as high as 30 percent in at-risk populations, like those aged 65 years and older, who are also more likely to contract the infection in the first place.

Although a natural immunity is often acquired after surviving an infectious disease, tetanus survivors do not acquire any such immunity. Treatment, post-infection, is possible, and children can also be vaccinated at a young age, but regular boosters are required to maintain a defense against infection.

booster shot study tetanus vaccine
The study authors still suggest that children receive a full set of inoculations before the age of 18. [AP Photo/Jae C. Hong]
Until recently, it was generally thought that if you hadn’t received a booster shot within the last 10 years, you were in danger of contracting tetanus. The CDC currently recommends a 10 year booster shot schedule, but new research suggests that may be overdoing it.

According to research out of the Oregon Health & Science University, immunity granted by a tetanus vaccine may last upwards of 30 years before another booster shot is required.

The study looked for tetanus antibodies in 546 adults who had received the tetanus vaccine at some point in the past. Of those 546 adults, the researchers found that 97 percent still had sufficient antibodies to fight off tetanus. Since tetanus boosters are also designed to fight diphtheria, the same percentage also had antibodies to fight off that disease.

The researchers then looked at the amount of antibodies present in each individual compared to the amount of time that had passed since they received their vaccines. The result was that the study determined the half-life of a tetanus booster to be about 14 years, which means that the average person should be able to go about 28 years between boosters, or almost three times as long as the current CDC recommendation.

The half-life for diphtheria immunity was found to be even longer, at about 27 years, or roughly 54 years between boosters.

Forbes reports that the findings of the Oregon Health & Sciences University study are similar to a smaller study that was published in 2007. That study found a half life of about 11 years, but it only looked at 45 adults instead of the larger sample size included in the newer research.

According to Mark Slifka, lead author of both studies, childhood immunization is still the best means of protection against tetanus, but the immunity lasts much further into adulthood than previously thought.

“You want to make sure your child gets the full vaccination series because by doing that, you’re giving protection long into adulthood,” Slifka told Forbes. “The idea is to go through the full vaccination series, and by getting the childhood vaccinations as scheduled, you now have that bonus of having fewer vaccinations as an adult.”

If the full series of tetanus vaccinations are received prior to the age of 18, Slifka recommends just one booster at age 30, and another at age 60, rather than getting booster shots every 10 years.

booster shot study whooping cough
Whooping cough vaccine is only available via the combined Tdap booster shot, and it doesn’t last as long. [Gary He/AP Photo for Sounds of Pertussis]
As previously reported by Inquisitr, tetanus booster shots are typically given in conjunction with not only the diphtheria vaccine but also the pertussis, or whooping cough, vaccine. This Tdap vaccine covers all three bases, but the pertussis vaccine doesn’t have nearly as long a half-life as either tetanus or diphtheria. Since there is no vaccine available for pertussis alone, the Tdap booster shot is the only way to vaccinate against whooping cough.

Do you think that the CDC will change the current 10 year booster shot schedule for tetanus vaccinations, now that we know the boosters can last 30 years, or will it stay the same?

[Photo via Shutterstock]

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