What is it for?
This vaccine prevents people from becoming sick from the toxin produced by the bacteria that cause diphtheria (Corynebacterium diphtheriae and Corynebacterium ulcerans). The toxin produced by these bacteria can affect the respiratory tract (lungs and windpipe), the nervous system and heart muscle cells. The infection is very contagious and can be life-threatening.
Diphtheria is quite rare in Australia. This is because the vaccine is given to children as part of the National Immunisation Program in order to wipe out diphtheria in Australia.
If you have not been vaccinated, you can get diphtheria by breathing in droplets containing the diphtheria bacteria that are coughed or sneezed by someone with the infection or by coming into close contact with their mouth, nose, throat or skin.
Who should be vaccinated?
Children aged 6 weeks to 6 months
A combined diphtheria vaccine is given free to all children aged 6 weeks to 2 months, 4 months and again at 6 months as part of the National Immunisation Program. The combined vaccine also protects your child against five other diseases including tetanus, polio, whooping cough (pertussis), hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib).
Children aged 3.5 to 4 years
As part of the National Immunisation Program schedule, children in this age group are given a combined booster vaccination that protects against diphtheria and four other diseases: tetanus, whooping cough (pertussis), Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) and polio.
Teenagers aged 10 to 17 years
More information about diphtheria is available from the NSW Department of Health.
Your doctor may recommend that you have a tetanus-containing booster vaccination if you are 50 years or older and you have not had a tetanus booster vaccination in the previous 10 years, or before travelling. Ask your doctor for advice.
- you work with babies or children (e.g. in a childcare or hospital neonatal unit), OR
- the benefits of being vaccinated outweigh the risk to you and your unborn baby of having the infection.
Read more information about what vaccines you can have if you are pregnant.
Women who are breastfeeding
There is no known risk to your baby if you are vaccinated with the diphtheria combination vaccine while you are breastfeeding.
Women who are breastfeeding can be vaccinated with any vaccine except the yellow fever vaccine.
Common side effects of the diptheria vaccine (that may affect 1 to 10 in every 100 people) include:
- redness, swelling and tenderness at injection site
- a lump at the injection site that generally disappears after a few weeks and does not need treatment
- feeling generally unwell (malaise)
- tiredness or drowsiness.
Read more about vaccine side effects and safety.
Who can I ask about side effects?
If you’re concerned that you or your child may have had side effects related to a vaccine, seek medical advice. To report and discuss possible side effects, call the Adverse Medicines Events (AME) Line on 1300 134 237 from anywhere in Australia (Monday–Friday, 9am–5pm AEST).
- Rossi S, ed. eAMH [online]. Adelaide: Australian Medicines Handbook, January 2013.
- Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. Office of Health Protection. 4.2 Diphtheria. In: The Australian Immunisation Handbook, 10th edn. www.immunise.health.gov.au/internet/immunise/publishing.nsf/Content/handbook10-4-2
- NSW Department of Health. Factsheet: Diphtheria.www.health.nsw.gov.au/factsheets/infectious/diphtheria.html