Diphtheria vaccine

Also called diphtheria-containing vaccines

The diphtheria vaccine protects against diphtheria infection. Find out about the vaccine and possible side effects.

Type of medicine Also called
  • Vaccines
  • Combined vaccines
  • Infanrix-hexa® 
  • Infanrix-IPV®
  • Boostrix®

What is diphtheria vaccine?

Diphtheria vaccine offers protection against diphtheria infection. This is a serious disease that can quickly lead to breathing problems. It is caused by bacteria that attack the lining of your nose, mouth and throat. It can damage your heart and in severe cases it can lead to death. 

Diphtheria is now rare in New Zealand thanks to vaccination. However, there is still a risk that diphtheria could enter New Zealand from overseas. Read more about diphtheria.

Being vaccinated causes your body to produce antibodies against the bacteria that cause diphtheria. This means your body can respond faster and more effectively to prevent an infection. It does this because by first coming across a non-infectious version of the bacteria in the vaccine, it learns to recognise it. When it comes across it again, your body can react much faster and in a more effective way.

When is diphtheria-containing vaccine given? 

In New Zealand, diphtheria vaccine is given in combination with other vaccines as one injection and comes in many different brands: Infanrix-hexa®, Infanrix-IPV®, Boostrix® and ADT Booster®. 

Vaccination with 3 or more doses of diphtheria-containing vaccine is required for full protection, followed by booster vaccinations throughout life.

As part of the New Zealand childhood immunisation schedule, a diphtheria-containing vaccine is offered free to:

  • babies at 6 weeks, 3 months and 5 months as Infanrix-hexa®
  • children at 4 years as Infanrix-IPV®.

Read more about childhood immunisation.

Getting the diphtheria vaccine in childhood does not offer lifelong immunity, as the effect of the vaccine wears off with time, so booster doses are needed. Booster doses are free for children at 11 years and adults at 65 years of age (Boostrix®). Adults who have not previously received 4 doses of diphtheria-containing vaccine can get Boostrix at 45 years of age.

Read more about immunisation for older children and immunisation for older adults.

Pregnancy

If you are pregnant, it's recommended that you get the Boostrix vaccine during your second or third trimester. Read more about pregnancy and immunisation

Travel

If you are planning to travel to countries with a risk of diphtheria infection, ensure that you are fully vaccinated against diphtheria. If more than 10 years have passed since your last dose, a booster of low dose diphtheria-containing vaccine is recommended.

How are diphtheria-containing vaccines given?

These vaccines are usually given intramuscularly (injected into a muscle) in your upper arm or thigh. However, if you are at high risk of bleeding, the vaccine may be given by deep subcutaneous injection (under your skin).  

Side effects

Like all medicines, vaccines can cause side effects, although not everyone gets them. 

Side effects What should I do?
  • Pain, swelling and redness at the injection site
  • Joint pain
  • This is quite common after having the vaccination.
  • It usually starts a few hours after getting the injection and settles within a few days.
  • For injection site swelling or pain, place a cold, wet cloth or ice pack where the injection was given. Leave it on for a short time. 
  • Don't rub the injection site
  • Tell your doctor if troublesome.
  • Read more: 
    After your child is immunised (babies and children)
    After your immunisation (teenagers and adults)
 
  • Fever
 Babies and children
  • If your child is hot, it can help to undress them down to a single layer, eg, a singlet and nappies or pants.
  • Make sure the room is not too hot or too cold. 
  • Give your child plenty of fluids. 
  • The routine use of paracetamol is not recommended following vaccinations, but may be used if your child is miserable or distressed.  
  • Read more: After your child is immunised 
Teenagers and adults
  • Rest and drink plenty of fluids
  • The routine use of paracetamol is not recommended following vaccinations, but may be used for relief of severe discomfort.
  • Read more: After your immunisation (teenagers and adults)
  • Signs of an allergic reaction such as skin rash, itches, swelling of your face, lips, mouth or problems breathing
  • Tell your doctor immediately or phone Healthine 0800 611 116.

Where can I get vaccinated?

The best place to go for vaccinations is your family medical clinic. They have your medical records and can check to see if you’ve already had a particular vaccination. Either your doctor or a nurse can give the vaccination.

If you don’t have a family doctor, you can go to one of the after-hour medical clinics. Phone them first to make sure they can help you with the vaccination you need.

You can find a clinic near you on the Healthpoint website. Put in your address and region, and under Select a service, click on GPs/Accident & Urgent Medical Care.

Vaccines on the National Immunisation Schedule are free. Other vaccines are funded only for people at particular risk of disease. You can choose to pay for vaccines that you are not eligible to receive for free.

Learn more

The following links provide further information on diphtheria-containing vaccines:

Medsafe Consumer Information

References

  1. Diphtheria The Immunisation Advisory Centre, NZ
  2. Boostrix The Immunisation Advisory Centre, NZ
  3. Infanrix-hexa The Immunisation Advisory Centre, NZ
  4. Infanrix-IPV The Immunisation Advisory Centre, NZ 
  5. Diphtheria National Immunisation Handbook, 2020
Credits: Sandra Ponen, Pharmacist. Reviewed By: Angela Lambie, Pharmacist, Auckland Last reviewed: 30 Sep 2020