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Diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough combination vaccines

Diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough (pertussis) combination vaccines help protect you against the following diseases:

  • Diphtheria - 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 - causes stiffness in the muscles of the body, affecting the jaw and causes severe muscle spasms which can affect breathing.
  • Whooping cough (pertussis) - causes episodes of severe coughing, causing difficulty with breathing and oxygen supply to the brain.

Combination vaccines available

There are four different combinations currently available. Below is a list of diseases you are protected against for each of the combinations available:

Vaccine recommendations

Combination diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough vaccines are available free through the National Immunisation Program for the following age groups:

  • 6 weeks of age, 4 and 6 months of age - Infanrix hexa vaccine
  • 18 months of age - Infanrix or Tripacel vaccine
  • 4 years of age - Infanrix IPV or Quadracel vaccine
  • Year 8 students - Boostrix vaccine (through the School Immunisation Program)
  • pregnant women in each pregnancy from 20 weeks gestation, with the optimal time between 20 and 32 weeks gestation - Adacel or Boostrix vaccine.

The combination diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough vaccines are also recommended, but may not be free, for all:

  • parents after the birth of the newborn if not recently immunised with whooping cough vaccine (Boostrix or Adacel)  excluding new mothers who received this vaccine during their pregnancy
  • grandparents, other family members, or any carers in close contact with those too young or too unwell to be immunised   (Boostrix or Adacel) (see Occupations at risk of vaccine preventable diseases page)

How the vaccine is given

The combination vaccine is given as an injection into the thigh if under 12 months of age, or the top of the arm from 12 months of age.

Possible side effects

Like any medications, the diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough combination vaccines can have some minor and short lasting side effects.

Common side effects may include:

  • pain, redness and swelling at the injection site
  • mild fever of 37 to 38 degrees Celsius
  • headache
  • feeling unwell
  • joint pain
  • babies receiving the vaccine may become grizzly and unsettled

Booster doses of a diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough 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
  • seizure in young children due to high fever
  • babies may experience a limp and unresponsive episode (hypotonic-hypo responsive episode) which can occur one to 48 hours after vaccination.

If you are concerned, 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 hot.

Where to get immunised

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

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

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