Diphtheria and tetanus vaccine

The diphtheria and tetanus vaccine used as a booster dose is Adsorbed Diphtheria and Tetanus (ADT® Booster) which helps protect against the following diseases :

  • Diphtheria which most commonly causes a thick membrane to grow in the throat restricting breathing and can damage the body’s tissues, such as the heart and nerves. 
  • Tetanus which causes stiffness in the muscles of the body affecting the jaw and causes severe muscle spasms, which can affect breathing.

This vaccine is also available as diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough combination vaccine.

Vaccine recommendations

The ADT vaccine is recommended if you are:

  • injured and at high risk of becoming infected and it is more than five years since a previous dose
  • aged over 50 years of age and have not had a dose in the previous 10 years
  • travelling overseas where health services may be difficult to access
  • travelling frequently and it has been longer than five years since the last dose.

How the Diphtheria and tetanus vaccine is given

ADT vaccine is given as an injection into the top of the arm.

Possible side effects of the diphtheria and tetanus vaccine

Like any medications, the ADT vaccine can have some minor and short-lasting side effects.

Common side effects may include:

  • pain, redness and swelling at the injection site
  • a mild fever of 37-38 degrees Celsius
  • feeling unwell
  • joint pain
  • headaches
  • tiredness
  • aching muscles
  • children may be irritable or unsettled

Booster doses of a diphtheria, tetanus combination vaccine can result in extensive limb swelling, which involves the area around the injection site becoming red and/or swollen and extending to the shoulder and/or elbow. This resolves completely within a few days and generally requires no treatment.

Although very rare, other side effects may include:

  • a severe allergic reaction to the vaccine
  • raised and itchy skin rash
  • inflammation of the nerve in the arm (brachial neuritis) causing weakness and numbness.

If you are concerned or worried, seek further advice from your doctor, immunisation provider, SA Health’s Immunisation Section or healthdirect Australia.

Any unexpected event following immunisation should be reported to SA Health.

Reducing the side effects

Many of the common side effects can be reduced by:

  • drinking extra fluids
  • resting
  • taking paracetamol
  • not overdressing if you are already hot.

Where to get immunised

To receive the vaccine contact your doctor, local council, community health centre or Aboriginal health centre to arrange an appointment. 

For further information on immunisation providers, see the Immunisation services page.