Easy-to-read medicine information about the tetanus vaccine – what it is, when it is given and possible side effects.
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What is the tetanus vaccine?
The tetanus vaccine is used to protect against tetanus infection. This is a serious disease caused by tetanus bacteria, which is found in soil and manure. If an adult or child has a cut exposed to soil, they could get tetanus. Other ways tetanus bacteria can get into your body are through:
- open fractures where the skin is broken and the bone exposed
- bite wounds
- wounds that have foreign objects, such as wood splinters
- crush injuries
- body piercings and tattoos
- eye injuries.
Tetanus affects your nervous system and causes severe muscle contractions, mainly of your jaw and neck muscles. Find out more about tetanus.
- Vaccination is the best method for preventing tetanus infection.
- This does not stop the bacteria growing in a contaminated wound, but it provides protection against the harmful toxin released by the bacteria.
- You cannot get tetanus disease from the vaccine, as it does not contain live, active bacteria.
When is tetanus vaccine given?
In New Zealand, tetanus vaccine is given in combination with other vaccines as 1 injection and comes in different brands: Infanrix-hexa®, Infanrix-IPV® and Boostrix®.
Vaccination with 3 or more doses of a tetanus-containing vaccine is required for full protection, followed by booster vaccinations throughout life.
As part of the New Zealand childhood immunisation schedule tetanus 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 tetanus 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 tetanus-containing vaccine can get Boostrix at 45 years of age.
Boosters may also be needed after some cuts, grazes and wounds if it has been more than 5 years since the last booster. Adults who have never had a tetanus injection will need to have a course of 3 injections at least 1 month apart.
It is recommended that pregnant women get the Boostrix vaccine during their second or third trimester. Read more about pregnancy and immunisation.
How is tetanus vaccine given?
Tetanus vaccine is given by injection in combination with other vaccines such as diphtheria. It is given into a muscle.
Like all medicines, the tetanus vaccine can cause side effects, although not everyone gets them.
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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.
The following links provide further information on tetanus vaccine.
Tetanus The Immunisation Advisory Centre, NZ
- Tetanus Immunisation Handbook 2020, NZ