Tetanus vaccine

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

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

What is tetanus vaccine?

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
  • burns
  • 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 one injection and comes in many different brands: Infanrix-hexa®, Infanrix-IPV®, Boostrix® and ADT Booster®.

Vaccination with three 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 (Boostrix®)
  • adults at 45 years and 65 years of age (ADT Booster®).

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

Boosters may also be needed after some cuts, grazes and wounds if it has been more than 5 years since the last booster. For adults who have never had a tetanus injection, you will need to have a course of three injections at least one 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.

Possible side effects

Like all medicines, the tetanus vaccine can cause side effects, although not everyone gets them. 

Side effects What should I do?
  • Pain, swelling or redness around the injection site
  • This is quite common after having the vaccination.
  • It usually starts a few hours after getting the injection and settles within a few days.
  • 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 immunisation
  • Mild fever
  • Feeling unwell, tired or weak
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle ache
  • Headache
  • These are quite common for the first 1 or 2 days after receiving the injection.
  • It usually settles within a few days.
  • Rest and drink plenty of fluids.
  • Because paracetamol or ibuprofen can interfere with your immunisation response to a vaccine, only take them for relief of severe discomfort or high fever. 
  • Tell your doctor if troublesome.
  • Read more After your immunisation
  • Signs of an allergic reaction such as skin rash, itching, blisters, peeling skin, swelling of your face, lips, mouth or problems breathing
  • Allergic reactions to tetanus vaccine are rare.
  • If you develop these signs within a few days of the immunisation, 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 tetanus vaccine. 

Tetanus The Immunisation Advisory Centre, NZ

References

  1. Tetanus Immunisation Handbook 2017, New Zealand
Credits: Sandra Ponen, Pharmacist. Reviewed By: Angela Lambie, Pharmacist, Auckland Last reviewed: 12 Aug 2018