Can Vaccines Make Every Disease Disappear?
Why Get Tetanus Boosters?
Tetanus bacteria secrete a potent toxin that attacks the central nervous system, causing severe muscle spasms including the characteristic “lockjaw” that leads to difficulty with breathing and swallowing. Spasms can be severe enough to fracture a person’s bones. Eleven percent of people with tetanus die.
The tetanus vaccine is an inactivated version of the toxin and induces antibody protection against the damaging effects of the toxin. It does not confer lifelong immunity. People should get revaccinated every 10 years in order to “boost” their immunity.
Tetanus bacteria are found globally in soil, the intestines of animals, and in manure. Because they do not rely on human-to-human transmission for survival, it is impossible to eradicate the bacteria. Therefore, the tetanus vaccine will be necessary for the foreseeable future.
The tetanus vaccine is usually given to children in combination with two others: one for diphtheria and one for pertussis (whooping cough). Like tetanus, pertussis requires periodic boosting throughout a person’s life because immunity wanes. Unlike tetanus, pertussis depends on human-to-human transmission and could be eradicated.
Diphtheria is a respiratory disease caused by a toxin produced by bacteria. Most fatalities are in young children. It also depends on human-to-human transmission.