Diphtheria

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Did you know?

Diphtheria was once one of the most common causes of death in Canadian children under the age of 5.

What is the diphtheria vaccine?

The diphtheria vaccine protects against diphtheria, a serious infection caused by diphtheria bacteria. The diphtheria vaccine is combined with other vaccines so that you or your child can get protection against several diseases with fewer shots.

Who should get the diphtheria vaccine? 

People of all ages need diphtheria vaccines.  There are many different combination vaccines used to prevent diphtheria in infants, young children, school-age children, and adults. 

Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis, Hepatitis B, Polio, and Haemophilus influenzae type b (DTaP-HB-IPV-Hib) Vaccine

  • This vaccine is given to babies as a series of 3 doses at 2, 4, and 6 months of age. They should get this vaccine at the same time as other childhood immunizations.

Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis, Polio, Haemophilus influenzae type b (DTaP-IPV-Hib) Vaccine 

  • This vaccine is given to children as a booster dose at 18 months of age after completing a three-dose primary series of DTaP-HB-IPV-Hib.

Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussis, Polio (Tdap-IPV) Vaccine

  • This vaccine is given as one dose to children 4-6 years of age. This is a booster dose for children who were immunized against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, and polio at a younger age. The booster dose strengthens or boosts the immune system to give better protection against these diseases.

Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussis (Tdap) Vaccine

  • This vaccine is offered to all students in Grade 9. This is a booster dose for children immunized against these diseases at a younger age. The booster dose strengthens or boosts the immune system to give better protection against these diseases.  Children who received a booster dose of Tdap vaccine on or after their 10th birthday do not need a dose in grade 9.
  • The Tdap vaccine is recommended and provided free to pregnant people in every pregnancy. The vaccine should be given at 27-32 weeks of pregnancy regardless of previous Tdap immunization history but may be given as early as 13 weeks and up until delivery. Learn more about the Tdap vaccine and pregnancy in our pregnancy section.
  • Children 7 years of age and older and adults who have not been fully immunized or whose immunization history is unknown can also get the vaccine.
  • A booster dose of the Tdap vaccine is recommended, but not provided free, for adults who were immunized in childhood. Adults who want to get the vaccine can buy it at most pharmacies and travel clinics.
  • People born in 1989 or later who missed their adolescent dose of Tdap are eligible to receive one dose of this vaccine for free.

Tetanus and Diphtheria (Td) Vaccine

  • The vaccine can be given to people who are at least 7 years old. This vaccine is given as a booster dose to adults who were immunized against tetanus and diphtheria when they were younger. Adults should get a booster dose of the Td vaccine every 10 years.  This booster dose strengthens or boosts the immune system to give better protection against these diseases.
  • Adults who have not been immunized or do not have a record of prior immunization should also get the vaccine.
  • This vaccine may also be given to people with serious cuts or deep wounds if their last tetanus vaccine was given more than 5 years ago.

Translations

Click on the vaccine name for information in different languages.

What are the benefits of the diphtheria vaccine?

Vaccination is the best way to protect against diphtheria, a serious disease that sometimes causes death. When you or your child get vaccinated, you help protect others too. 

What are the side effects?

Vaccines are very safe. It is much safer to get the vaccine than it is to get diphtheria. 

Many people have no side effects from these vaccines. For those that do, side effects are usually mild and last 1 to 2 days (see a list of common side effects for each vaccine below). Serious side effects are extremely rare.

It is important to stay in the clinic for 15 minutes after getting any vaccine because there is an extremely rare possibility of anaphylaxis, which is a life-threatening allergic reaction. This may include hives, difficulty breathing, or swelling of the throat, tongue, or lips. The chance of true anaphylaxis is about 1 in 1 million vaccine doses. Should this reaction occur, your health care provider is prepared to treat it. Emergency treatment includes administration of epinephrine (adrenaline) and transfer by ambulance to the nearest emergency department. If symptoms develop after you leave the clinic, call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number. Learn more about anaphylaxis on our vaccine side effects page.

It is important to always report serious or unexpected reactions to your immunizing health care provider.

DTaP-HB-IPV-Hib Vaccine

Common side effects may include soreness, redness, and swelling where the vaccine was given. Some children may have a fever or experience crankiness, restlessness, vomiting, diarrhea, persistent crying, or a loss of appetite. These reactions are mild and usually last 1 to 2 days.

DTaP-IPV-Hib Vaccine

Common side effects may include soreness, redness, and swelling where the vaccine was given. Some children may have a fever, or experience crankiness, drowsiness, loss of appetite, vomiting, and diarrhea. These reactions are mild and generally last 1 to 2 days. Large areas of redness and swelling may be present but these generally do not interfere with normal activity.

Tdap-IPV Vaccine

Common side effects may include may include soreness, redness, and swelling where the vaccine was given. Fever, chills, headache, and tiredness may also occur. These reactions are mild and generally last 1 to 2 days. Large areas of redness and swelling may be present but these generally do not interfere with normal activity.

Tdap Vaccine

Common side effects may include soreness, redness and swelling in the arm where the vaccine was given. Headache, tiredness, muscle or joint soreness, chills, nausea, diarrhea and mild fever may also occur.

Td Vaccine

Common side effects may include soreness, redness, and swelling where the vaccine was given. Fever, headache, and muscle soreness may also occur.

Where can I learn more?

  • Click on the vaccine name above to read the HealthLink BC File.
  • Talk to your immunizing health care provider. 

About diphtheria 

  • Diphtheria is a serious infection of the nose and throat caused by diphtheria bacteria.
  • Diphtheria bacteria are spread through the air by people sneezing or coughing or by direct skin-to-skin contact.
  • The disease can result in very severe breathing problems. It can also cause heart failure and paralysis.
  • About 1 in 10 people who get diphtheria may die.
  • Diphtheria is now rare in Canada because of routine childhood vaccination programs. However, it still occurs in other parts of the world.
Date last reviewed: 
Wednesday, Aug 17, 2022