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Health Information Center

Diphtheria Vaccine

  • Amy Scholten, MPH
Publication Type:


Diphtheria Vaccine

(DTaP Vaccine-Diphtheria; Tdap Vaccine-Diphtheria)

What Is Diphtheria?

Diphtheria is an infection from certain bacteria. It usually affects the throat and nose. In serious cases, it may affect the nervous system and heart. It can be life-threatening.

The infection spreads from person to person contact. It is now rare in the United States. This is due to widespread vaccines.

What Is the Diphtheria Vaccine?

The vaccine is an inactive toxin. There are different diphtheria vaccines. They include:

  • DTaP—given to children to protect against diphtheria, tetanus , and pertussis
  • DT—given to children who cannot have the pertussis part of the DTaP vaccine
  • Tdap—given to children, adolescents, and adults to protect against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis
  • Td—given to adolescents and adults to protect against tetanus and diphtheria

The vaccine is injected into the muscle.

Who Should Be Vaccinated and When?

What Are the Risks Associated With the Diphtheria Vaccine?

All vaccines have some risk. However, most people have no reactions or mild ones.

Acetaminophen may weaken the vaccine's effect. Do not use it without talking to the doctor first. It may be needed for some children.

Who Should Not Be Vaccinated?

The vaccine is not advised for those who:

  • Have had a serious allergic reaction to a past dose of the vaccine
  • Have had certain conditions after a past dose of the vaccine, such as:
    • Nervous system problems or Guillain Barre syndrome
    • Very high fever or nonstop crying (in children)
  • Are moderately or severely ill

Talk to the doctor about current and past health before getting the vaccine.

What Other Ways Can Diphtheria Be Prevented Besides Vaccination?

Prevention depends on getting the vaccine. This must be done quickly during an outbreak.

What Happens in the Event of an Outbreak?

Suspected diphtheria needs to be reported right away to public health officials.

People are at risk if they have had close contact with an infected person. They need to:

  • Get a vaccine right away—if one is needed
  • Have lab tests, take antibiotics, and be checked by a doctor


The DTaP vaccine is usually given before starting school. The vaccine is advised at:

  • 2 months
  • 4 months
  • 6 months
  • 15 to 18 months
  • 4 to 6 years


Tdap is advised for children aged 11 to 12 years who have had the DTaP series. Tdap can also be given to:

  • Children aged 7 to 10 years—who have not been fully vaccinated
  • Children and teens aged 13 to 18 years—who did not get the Tdap
  • Adults who have never had the Tdap
  • Pregnant women during each pregnancy (advised between the 27th and 36th week)
  • Adults who have not had the vaccine—and who are near babies aged 12 months or younger
  • Healthcare staff who have not had the Tdap


Td is given as a booster shot every 10 years.

Catch-Up Schedule

Talk to a doctor if you or your child has not been fully vaccinated.


  • Diphtheria antitoxin. Centers for Disease Control and Protection website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/diphtheria/dat.html
  • Diphtheria (DTaP, Tdap, Td). Immunization Action Coalition website. Available at: https://vaccineinformation.org/diphtheria/.
  • Diphtheria. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/diphtheria.
  • Diphtheria. Nemours Kids Health website. Available at: https://www.kidshealth.org/en/parents/diphtheria.html.
  • Diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis VIS. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/vis/vis-statements/dtap.html.
  • Mazzilli S, Tavoschi L, et al. Tdap vaccination during pregnancy to protect newborns from pertussis infection. Ann Ig. 2018;30(4):346-363.
  • Tdap vaccine: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/vis/vis-statements/tdap.html.


  • David L. Horn, MD, FACP
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.