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    Mayo Clinic Minute: The ABCs of the DTaP vaccine

Giving children the diphtheria, tetanus and acellular (DTaP) vaccine is one of the most important parts of keeping them healthy and protecting them from illness throughout their lives. Dr. Nipunie Rajapakse, a Mayo Clinic pediatric infectious diseases specialist, says the consequences of not following the DTaP vaccine schedule can be devastating.

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Since babies don't come into the world immune from most illnesses, their first few rounds of vaccinations are critical.

"The DTaP vaccine is a very important part of vaccination of young children," Dr. Rajapakse says. "It is ... kind of the backbone of our vaccination strategy for young children."

The "D" in "DTaP" stands for diphtheria.

"The reason we don't see [diphtheria] in the United States anymore is also thanks to vaccines like this that have been part of the routine schedule for quite some time and have allowed us to eradicate that disease from here," Dr. Rajapakse says.

But cases still occur, and kids who get diphtheria risk bad effects on the heart and other organs.

The "T" stands for tetanus, which can develop any time dirt or soil gets into a wound.

"The bacteria can produce a toxin that affects the abilities of the muscles to work, and this can cause stiffening of the muscles and rigidity of the muscles," Dr. Rajapakse says.

There are no good antibiotics or treatments for tetanus.

The "aP" stands for acellular pertussis, also known as whooping cough.

"Usually circulating in areas where there's low levels of vaccine protection, and it is a very serious infection, especially for young infants," Dr. Rajapakse says.

For unvaccinated babies under 6 months, whooping cough can be deadly.

Dr. Rajapakse says the DTaP vaccine is critical for protecting your baby from suffering and, in many cases, death.