Vaccine (Shot) for Diphtheria

Diphtheria

How to pronounce Diphtheria: [dif-THEER-ee-uh] or Listen media icon[MP3]

Five doses of the DTaP shot and a Tdap booster shot are recommended 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 as well as tetanus and whooping cough (pertussis), which can all be very serious.
  • 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?

The DTaP shot children get does not offer lifetime protection. People need booster vaccines to keep up protection from diphtheria.

Children should get a booster vaccine called Tdap (which helps to protect against tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough) at 11 or 12 years old. Anyone who does not get Tdap at that age should get one dose as a replacement for their 10-year Td booster shot.

Adults need a booster called the Td vaccine (for tetanus and diphtheria) every 10 years.

Diphtheria shots are safe.

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The diphtheria shots are very safe, and are 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 the shot. The side effects that do occur are usually mild, and may include:

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

These types of side effects happen in about 1 out of every 4 children who get the shot.

More serious side effects are very rare but 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 the Tdap vaccine or any other shot.

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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.

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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, the diphtheria toxin makes a thick coating in the back of the nose or throat. It may be white or grayish. The coating makes it hard to breathe or swallow.

Is it serious?

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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, Academy of Family Physicians, and the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommend children receive all vaccines according to the recommended vaccine schedule.

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Page last reviewed: August 2, 2019