Diphtheria and Tetanus Vaccine

Diphtheria and Tetanus Information

Diphtheria is a disease that can cause a thick coating to form in the nose, throat, or airway, making it difficult to breathe. Symptoms of diphtheria infection are similar to the common cold, including runny nose, sore throat, low fever, and feelings of tiredness. However, left untreated, it can block the airway or lead to paralysis, heart failure, coma, or death. Diphtheria is caused by bacteria and is contagious, usually through close contact with an infected person.

Tetanus is a disease that can cause painful tightening of muscles, including voluntary muscles like in the arms and legs, but can also affect involuntary muscles like those that help us breathe. Tetanus bacteria are found primarily in soil, and infection occurs when the bacteria enters the body through a cut or wound. Early symptoms of tetanus include:

  • Tightening of jaw muscles, or "lockjaw"
  • Neck stiffness
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Stiffness of the stomach muscles.

Later symptoms can include muscle spasms, seizure-like activity, and other complications. Tetanus causes death in about 30 percent of those that become infected.

Diphtheria and Tetanus Vaccine Information

Diphtheria and tetanus vaccines are routinely given together as a combination vaccine. Depending on the age, the patient can receive one of two diphtheria and tetanus combination vaccines, called DT and Td.

There are also combination vaccines for diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis, or whooping cough. These are called the DTaP and Tdap combination vaccines.

These vaccines are given as an injection into the arm or thigh muscle, which is known as an intramuscular (IM) injection.

Who Should Receive the Diphtheria and Tetanus Vaccine?

Vaccine Group Age # of Doses Booster Dose
DT* Infants Younger than 12 months of age 4 None
DT* Infants and Children 12 months to 7 years of age 3 None
Td Children and Adults 7 years of age or older 3 A single dose every 10 years

*DT vaccine is recommended for infants and children who cannot receive the DTaP vaccine.

Diphtheria and Tetanus Vaccine Schedule

DT Vaccine:

  • For infants and children younger than 12 months
    • -Four doses: At 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, and 15-18 months
  • For children 12 months or older
    • -Three doses: First dose, followed by a second dose 1 month after the first dose, followed by a third dose 6-12 months after the second dose

Td Vaccine

  • Three doses: First dose, followed by a second dose 1 month after the first dose, followed by a third dose 6-12 months after the second dose
  • A single dose, or booster shot, once every 10 years

Diphtheria and tetanus vaccines may be given at the same time as other vaccines.

Side Effects

Mild-to-Moderate Problems

  • Soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given

Severe Problems (Rare)

  • Deep, aching pain and loss of muscle strength in the upper arm.
  • Serious allergic reactions, with symptoms including:
    • -Difficulty breathing
    • -Wheezing
    • -Hives
    • -Pale skin
    • -Fast heartbeat
    • -Dizziness

Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help ease pain and reduce fever.

It is extremely rare for this vaccine to cause serious harm or death. If the person getting the vaccine has a serious reaction, call the doctor or seek immediate medical attention.

Who Should Not Receive the Diphtheria and Tetanus Vaccination

  • Those with moderate or severe illness (for example, a severe cold, flu or infection of the sinuses or lungs) should not receive the vaccine until symptoms of the illness improve.
  • Women who are pregnant or plan to become pregnant should ask their doctor if they should receive the vaccine.
  • Those who previously had a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction to the vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine should not be vaccinated.

Additional Information

Tell your doctor or a healthcare provider if the person getting the vaccine has any severe allergies.

Call the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at 800-232-4636 or visit the CDC website, at cdc.gov/vaccines, for more vaccine information.

This publication should be used for general educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Be sure to contact your doctor, pharmacist, or other healthcare provider for more information about human papillomavirus. Although it is intended to be accurate, neither Walgreen Co., its subsidiaries or affiliates, nor any other party assumes liability for loss or damage due to reliance on this publication.


Atkinson W, Hamborsky J, McIntyre L, Wolfe S, eds. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases. 10th ed. Washington, DC: Public Health Foundation, 2007.

Vaccine Information Statement: tetanus and diphtheria vaccine (Td). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). June 10, 1994. cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/vis/default.htm. Accessed March 2008.

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