Tetanus vaccine

What is it for?

This vaccine protects you against the toxin (poison) produced by the Clostridium tetani bacteria that cause tetanus (also known as lockjaw).

The bacteria grow in soil and faeces (e.g. manure), but can exist anywhere in the environment. If you have a cut or wound on your hand for example, the wound can become contaminated with the bacteria, which then enter your blood stream. You can’t catch tetanus from other people.

Tetanus can be fatal. The toxin affects the nerves in your brain and spinal cord (the central nervous system). This in turn causes stiffness in your neck, shoulder and jaw muscles (lock jaw), breathing difficulties and difficulty talking, painful muscle spasms and an abnormal heart beat.

Who should be vaccinated?

The tetanus vaccine is given as part of a combined vaccine. There are three vaccinations and two booster vaccinations given at different ages. The vaccines are given free to all children as part of the National Immunisation Program.

Even though tetanus disease is rare in Australia, it’s important to make sure that you have been vaccinated, as you can get infected even if you have a relatively small cut or wound (e.g. when gardening). Tetanus infections mainly happen in older people who have never been vaccinated or were vaccinated a long time ago. A complete course of vaccinations will protect you against infection for many years.

Children

Children 6 weeks to 6 months

A combined vaccine is given free to all children at 6 weeks to 2 months, 4 months and again at 6 months old as part of the National Immunisation Program.

The vaccine protects your child against tetanus and five other diseases: diphtheria, polio, whooping cough (pertussis), hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib).

Children aged 3.5 to 4 years

Children in this age group are given a combined booster vaccination that protects against tetanus and three other diseases: diphtheria, whooping cough (pertussis), and polio.

Teenagers 10 to 17 years old

Teenagers are usually given a combined booster vaccination that also protects against diphtheria and whooping cough (pertussis). The vaccination is given as part of the National Immunisation Program schedule usually at 11 to 13 years. Which booster vaccine is given, and when, may depend on your state or territory.

Adults

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, if you have been injured, or before travelling. Ask your doctor for advice.

Pregnant women

The tetanus vaccine can be given to pregnant women. There is no known risk to your unborn baby.

Read more about what vaccines you can have if you are pregnant.

Women who are breastfeeding

In general, there is no known risk to your baby if you are vaccinated with any vaccine — except the yellow fever vaccine — while you are breastfeeding.

Side effects

Common side effects of vaccines that contain tetanus (that may affect 1 to 10 in every 100 people) include:

  • fever
  • redness, swelling and tenderness at the injection site
  • a lump at the injection site; this generally disappears after a few weeks and does not need treatment
  • feeling generally unwell (malaise)
  • tiredness or drowsiness.

Common side effects of vaccines that contain tetanus and polio (that may affect 1 to 10 in every 100 people) include:

  • fever (a temperature of 38.5°C or higher)
  • redness, swelling and tenderness at the injection site
  • a lump at the injection site; this generally disappears after a few weeks and does not need treatment
  • muscle aches.

For more information, read our page on the 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).

References

Related information - tetanus vaccine

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12 Oct 2016 Infanrix Hexa (thiomersal free) Suspension for injection is a brand of medicine. Find out about side effects, who can and who shouldn’t use Infanrix Hexa (thiomersal free) Suspension for injection by reading the latest Australian consumer medicine information. See our tips on how to use medicines wisely and safely.
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12 Dec 2014 Adacel Polio Suspension for injection is a brand of medicine containing the active ingredient pertussis vaccine - diphtheria toxoid - tetanus toxoid - poliomyelitis vaccine. Find out about side effects, who can take it and who shouldn’t use Adacel Polio Suspension for injection by reading the latest Australian consumer medicine information, plus tips on how to use medicines wisely and safely.
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12 Dec 2014 Boostrix-IPV Suspension for injection is a brand of medicine containing the active ingredient diphtheria toxoid - tetanus toxoid - pertussis vaccine - poliomyelitis vaccine. Find out about side effects, who can take it and who shouldn’t use Boostrix-IPV Suspension for injection by reading the latest Australian consumer medicine information, plus tips on how to use medicines wisely and safely.
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11 Dec 2014 Quadracel Suspension for injection is a brand of medicine. Find out about side effects, who can and who shouldn’t use Quadracel Suspension for injection by reading the latest Australian consumer medicine information. See our tips on how to use medicines wisely and safely.
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06 Nov 2014 Boostrix (preservative free) Suspension for injection is a brand of medicine containing the active ingredient diphtheria toxoid - tetanus toxoid - pertussis vaccine. Find out about side effects, who can take it and who shouldn’t use Boostrix (preservative free) Suspension for injection by reading the latest Australian consumer medicine information, plus tips on how to use medicines wisely and safely.
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04 Nov 2013 ADT Booster Suspension for injection is a brand of medicine containing the active ingredient diphtheria toxoid - tetanus toxoid. Find out about side effects, who can take it and who shouldn’t use ADT Booster Suspension for injection by reading the latest Australian consumer medicine information, plus tips on how to use medicines wisely and safely.
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04 Nov 2013 Infanrix IPV (preservative free) Suspension for injection is a brand of medicine containing the active ingredient diphtheria toxoid - pertussis vaccine - tetanus toxoid - poliomyelitis vaccine. Find out about side effects, who can take it and who shouldn’t use Infanrix IPV (preservative free) Suspension for injection by reading the latest Australian consumer medicine information, plus tips on how to use medicines wisely and safely.