Vaccine (Shot) for Diphtheria


How to pronounce diphtheria: [dif-THEER-ee-uh] or Listen [MP3]

Five doses of the DTaP shot and a Tdap booster shot are recommended for children and preteens by doctors as the best way to protect against diphtheria.

When should my child get the diphtheria shot?

Doctors recommend that your child get DTaP vaccine and 1 booster dose of Tdap at the following ages:

Why should my child get a diphtheria shot?

  • Protects against diphtheria, which can be very serious, as well as tetanus, and whooping cough (pertussis).
  • Prevents your child from developing a thick coating in the back of the nose or throat from diphtheria that can make it hard to breathe or swallow.
  • Keeps your child from missing school or child care, and you from missing work.

Which vaccines protect against diphtheria?

Two shots help protect children against diphtheria: DTaP and Tdap. Both also help protect against tetanus and whooping cough. These shots do not offer lifetime protection. People need booster shots to keep up protection.

Diphtheria shots are safe.

The diphtheria shots are safe and effective at preventing diphtheria. Vaccines like any medicine, can have side effects. These are usually mild and go away on their own.

What are the side effects?

Most children don’t have any side effects from DTaP or Tdap. The side effects that do occur are usually mild, and may include:

  • Redness, swelling, or pain where the shot was given
  • Fever
  • Vomiting

More serious side effects are very rare but with DTaP can include:

  • A fever over 105 degrees
  • Nonstop crying for 3 hours or more
  • Seizures (jerking, twitching of the muscles, or staring)

Some preteens and teens might faint after getting Tdap or any other shot.

To prevent fainting and injuries related to fainting, adolescents should be seated or lying down during vaccination and remain in that position for 15 minutes after the vaccine is given.

Prepare for your child's vaccine visit and learn about how you can:

  • Research vaccines and ready your child before the visit
  • Comfort your child during the appointment
  • Care for your child after the shot
Before, During, and After Shots
close-up of a male doctor putting a tongue depressor into a girl's mouth.

What are the symptoms of diphtheria?

Diphtheria starts with a sore throat, mild fever (101 degrees or less), and chills. Next, it can cause a thick coating in the back of the nose or throat. The coating may be white or grayish and makes it hard to breathe or swallow.

Is it serious?

Illustration of boy's head with nose and throat areas highlighted

Diphtheria can be very serious. In children younger than 5 years old, as many as 1 out of 5 children who get diphtheria dies. About 1 out of 10 people who get diphtheria dies.

The coating in the back of the nose or throat can get so thick that it blocks the airway, so the person can’t breathe.

The diphtheria toxin can affect the heart, causing an abnormal heart rhythms and even heart failure. It can also affect the nerves and lead to paralysis (unable to move parts of the body).

How does diphtheria spread?

Diphtheria spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes. A person who does not receive treatment can spread the disease for about 2 weeks after infection.

Follow the vaccine schedule

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Academy of Family Physicians, and American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommend children receive all vaccines according to the recommended vaccine schedule.

Related Articles:

  • Vaccine Information Statements (VISs) have detailed information about recommended vaccines. Read the VISs for vaccines that protect against diphtheria:
  • References
Page last reviewed: August 2, 2019