Diphtheria vaccine

Also called diphtheria-containing vaccines

Key points about diphtheria vaccines

  • Diphtheria vaccines protect against diphtheria infection. 
  • In Aotearoa New Zealand, the diphtheria vaccine is given in combination with other vaccines as one injection and is available in many different brands – Adacel®, Boostrix®, Infanrix-hexa® and Infanrix-IPV®. 
  • Find out about the vaccines and possible side effects.
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Diphtheria vaccine offers protection against diphtheria infection. This is a serious disease that can quickly lead to breathing problems. It's caused by bacteria that attack the lining of your nose, mouth and throat. It can damage your heart and, in severe cases, it can lead to death. 

Diphtheria is now rare in Aotearoa New Zealand thanks to vaccination. However, there is still a risk that diphtheria could enter New Zealand from overseas. Read more about diphtheria.

Being vaccinated causes your body to produce antibodies against the bacteria that cause diphtheria. By first coming across a non-infectious version of the bacteria in the vaccine, it learns to recognise it. When it comes across it again, your body can react much faster and more effectively to prevent an infection.

In Aotearoa New Zealand, diphtheria vaccine is given in combination with other vaccines as 1 injection and comes in many different brands – Adacel®, Boostrix®, Infanrix-hexa® and Infanrix-IPV®. 

Vaccination with 3 or more doses of diphtheria-containing vaccine is required for full protection, followed by booster vaccinations throughout life.

As part of the New Zealand childhood immunisation schedule, a diphtheria-containing 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 diphtheria vaccine in childhood doesn't 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 and adults at 65 years of age (Boostrix®). Adults who haven't previously received 4 doses of diphtheria-containing vaccine can get Boostrix at 45 years of age.

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


If you are pregnant, it's recommended that you get the Boostrix vaccine during your second or third trimester. Read more about pregnancy and immunisation


If you're planning to travel to countries with a risk of diphtheria infection, make sure you're fully vaccinated against diphtheria. If more than 10 years have passed since your last dose, a booster of low dose diphtheria-containing vaccine is recommended.

These vaccines are usually given intramuscularly (injected into a muscle) in your upper arm or thigh. However, if you are at high risk of bleeding, the vaccine may be given by deep subcutaneous injection (under your skin).  

Like all medicines, vaccines can cause side effects, although not everyone gets them. 

Side effects What should I do?
  • Pain, swelling and redness at the injection site
  • Joint pain
  • This is quite common after having the vaccination.
  • It usually starts a few hours after getting the injection and settles within a few days.
  • For injection site swelling or pain, place a cold, wet cloth or ice pack where the injection was given. Leave it on for a short time. 
  • Don't rub the injection site
  • Tell your doctor if these side effects bother you.
  • Read more: 
    After your child is immunised(external link) (babies and children)
    After your immunisation(external link) (teenagers and adults)
  • Fever
 Babies and children
  • If your child is hot, it can help to undress them down to a single layer, eg, a singlet and nappies or pants.
  • Make sure the room isn't too hot or too cold. 
  • Give your child plenty of fluids. 
  • The routine use of paracetamol is not recommended following vaccinations, but may be used if your child is miserable or distressed.  
  • Read more: After your child is immunised.(external link)
Teenagers and adults
  • Rest and drink plenty of fluids.
  • The routine use of paracetamol isn't recommended following vaccinations, but may be used for relief of severe discomfort.
  • Read more: After your immunisation(external link) (teenagers and adults).
  • Signs of an allergic reaction, eg, skin rash, itches, swelling of your face, lips, mouth or problems breathing
  • Tell your doctor immediately or phone Healthline 0800 611 116.
Did you know that you can report a medicine side effect to CARM (Centre for Adverse Reactions Monitoring)? Report a side effect to a product.(external link)

A diphtheria-containing vaccine, Boostrix®, is available through some schools for students in Year 7 and can also be given by your doctor, nurse, healthcare provider, and some pharmacies. Find a provider near you on the Healthpoint(external link) website by entering your address.

  • If you're eligible for a free vaccination, there won't be a cost for the vaccine, but there may be an administration fee.
  • If you're not eligible to get a free vaccination, you will need to pay.
  • Pharmacists who are trained as vaccinators can administer Boostrix® to anyone 18 years and over, or 13 years and over if pregnant.

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're not eligible to receive for free.

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Credits: Sandra Ponen, Pharmacist, Healthify He Puna Waiora. Healthify is brought to you by Health Navigator Charitable Trust.

Reviewed by: Angela Lambie, Pharmacist, Auckland

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