Adult and adolescent diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough (pertussis) immunisation information
Page content: Diphtheria | Tetanus | Whooping cough | Adult/adolescent diphtheria, tetanus & whooping cough vaccine | Vaccine recommendations | Possible side effects of adult/adolescent diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough vaccine | Pre-immunisation checklist | In your languageThe National Immunisation Program provides free diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough vaccine to Year 10 secondary school students.
Diphtheria is caused by bacteria which are found in the mouth, throat and nose. Diphtheria causes a membrane to grow around the inside of the throat. This can make it difficult to swallow, breathe and can even lead to suffocation.
The bacteria produce a poison which can spread around the body and cause serious complications such as paralysis and heart failure. Around 10 percent of people who contract diphtheria die from it. Diphtheria can be caught through coughs and sneezes from an infected person.
Tetanus is caused by bacteria which are present in soils, dust and manure. The bacteria can enter the body through a wound which may be as small as a pin prick. Tetanus cannot be passed from person to person.
Tetanus is an often fatal disease which attacks the nervous system. It causes muscle spasms first felt in the neck and jaw muscles. Tetanus can lead to breathing difficulties, painful convulsions and abnormal heart rhythms.
Because of the effective vaccine, tetanus is now rare in Australia, but it still occurs in adults who have never been immunised against the disease or who have not had their booster vaccines.
Whooping cough, also known as pertussis is a highly infectious disease causing a severe, persistent cough. In young babies the cough is often followed by breathing problems and vomiting. Whooping cough is spread by coughs and sneezes from an infected person.
Severe complications such as pneumonia, bleeding, convulsions, coma and permanent brain and lung damage can occur.
Babies under six months of age are particularly at risk, as they are not protected against whooping cough until their six-month vaccination schedule is complete. Infected babies often require admission to hospital.
Protection against whooping cough both from the disease and the vaccine decreases over time. Therefore a booster dose of whooping cough vaccine is recommended for adolescents in Year 10 of secondary school (as well as other groups in the community - see Vaccine recommendations) to reduce the incidence of whooping cough circulating in the community.
There are different brands of adult/adolescent diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough vaccine available.
These vaccines contain a small amount of diphtheria and tetanus toxins which are modified to make them harmless, small parts of purified components of pertussis and a small amount of aluminium salt.After the vaccine has been given it generally takes about two weeks to build protection in the body.
The adult and adolescent diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough vaccine is recommended on a single occasion for the following groups who have previously completed a course of diphtheria-tetanus vaccine. Once a single booster dose has been given, subsequent booster doses to the same person should not be administered even if he/she qualifies for another of the groups below:
- adolescents in Year 10 of secondary school or age equivalent
- adults before planning pregnancy or for both parents as soon as possible after birth
- adults working with or caring for young children, especially healthcare workers and childcare workers in contact with infants
- any adult who wants to be protected against whooping cough.
This vaccine is only provided free to adolescents in Year 10 of secondary school (or age equivalent).
While the vaccine is strongly recommended for the other groups outlined above, it is not funded and therefore needs to be purchased privately.
This vaccine is safe and well tolerated in adolescents and adults. Most side effects are minor and quickly disappear. The following reactions are not common and if they occur, it will be soon after the immunisation. Reactions include feeling unwell, a low grade fever and soreness, redness and swelling in the area where the injection was given.
Side effects can be reduced by:
- drinking extra fluids and not over-dressing if the person has a fever
- placing a cold wet cloth to the sore injection site
- taking paracetamol to reduce discomfort.
If reactions are severe or persistent, or if you are worried, contact your doctor or hospital.
Before you or your child is immunised, tell the doctor or nurse if any of the following apply:
- is unwell on the day of immunisation (temperature over 38.5°C)
- has had a severe reaction to any vaccine
- is pregnant (the person to be vaccinated)
This information is also available in the following languages: Arabic, Bosnian, Burmese, Chinese, Dari, Greek, Indonesian, Italian, Karen, Khmer, Macedonian, Serbian, Sinhalese, Somali, Turkish and Vietnamese.