Easy-to-read medicine information about tetanus vaccine – what it is, when is it given and possible side effects.
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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
- 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?
Vaccination with three or more doses of tetanus-containing vaccine is required for full protection, followed by booster vaccinations throughout life. 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®.
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®).
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 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.
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.
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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. 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.
The following links provide further information on tetanus vaccine.
Tetanus The Immunisation Advisory Centre, NZ
- Tetanus Immunisation Handbook 2017, New Zealand