Diphtheria vaccine

Also called diphtheria-containing vaccines

Easy-to-read medicine information about diphtheria vaccine – what it is, when it is given and possible side effects.

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

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 the nose, mouth and throat. It can damage the heart and in severe cases it can lead to death. 

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

Diphtheria vaccine works by making your immune system produce special cells called antibodies that will attack and kill the diphtheria bacteria when it enters your body. This means that if you get infected, these protective antibodies are already in your bloodstream to quickly fight off the germs.

When is diphtheria vaccine given? 

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

As part of the New Zealand childhood immunisation schedule, 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 (Boostrix®)
  • adults at 45 years and 65 years of age (ADT Booster®).

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

Pregnancy

It is recommended that pregnant women get the Boostrix vaccine from 28 to 36 weeks, which contains vaccines against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough). This is given to pregnant women to protect mother and baby, mainly against whooping cough. 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 immunised against diphtheria. If more than 10 years have passed since the 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 the muscle) in the upper arm or thigh. However, if you are at high risk of bleeding, the vaccine may be given by deep subcutaneous injection (under the skin).  

Possible 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. 
  • Do not 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)
 
  • Mild fever
 Babies and children
  • If your child is hot, it can help to undress them down to a single layer, for example, a singlet and nappies or pants. Make sure the room is not too hot or too cold. 
  • Give paracetamol or ibuprofen only as advised by your doctor or nurse. Paracetamol
    may reduce the effectiveness of childhood vaccinations.
  • Read more: After your child is immunised 
Teenagers and adults
  • Rest and drink plenty of fluids
  • Because paracetamol or ibuprofen can interfere with
    your immune response to a vaccine, only take them
    for relief of significant discomfort or high fever.
  • Read more: After your immunisation (teenagers and adults)
  • Signs of an allergic reaction such as skin rash, itches, swelling of the face, lips, mouth or have problems breathing
  • Tell your doctor immediately or ring HealthLine 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. Ring 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
  2. ADT Booster The Immunisation Advisory Centre
  3. Boostrix The Immunisation Advisory Centre
  4. Infanrix-hexa The Immunisation Advisory Centre
  5. Infanrix-IPV The Immunisation Advisory Centre 
  6. Diphtheria National Immunisation Handbook, 2017
Credits: Sandra Ponen, pharmacist. Reviewed By: Angela Lambie, Pharmacist, Auckland Last reviewed: 01 Apr 2019