Diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough combination vaccines

Diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough (pertussis) combination vaccines help protect you against the following diseases:

  • Diphtheria - commonly causes a thick membrane to grow in the throat restricting breathing and also leads to infection of the blood
  • Tetanus - causes stiffness and paralysis in the jaw and breathing muscles leading to severe muscle spasms.
  • Whooping cough (pertussis) - causes episodes of severe coughing with vomiting and low air supply to the brain during coughing fits.

Combination vaccines available

There are four different combinations currently available. Below is a list of diseases you are protected against for each of the combinations available:

Vaccine recommendations

Combination diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough vaccines are available free through the National Immunisation Program for the following age groups:

  • 6 weeks of age, 4 and 6 months of age - Infanrix hexa vaccine
  • 18 months of age - Infanrix or Tripacel vaccine
  • 4 years of age - Infanrix IPV or Quadracel vaccine
  • Year 8 students - Boostrix vaccine (through the School Immunisation Program)
  • pregnant women in the 28 to 32 weeks gestation (third trimester) - Adacel or Boostrix vaccine (through the Whooping Cough Vaccine in Pregnancy Program).

The combination diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough vaccines are also recommended for all:

  • parents after the birth of the newborn if not recently immunised with whooping cough vaccine (Boostrix or Adacel) excluding new mothers who may have received during their pregnancy
  • grandparents, other family members, or any carers in close contact with those too young or too unwell to be immunised (Boostrix or Adacel) (see Occupations at risk of vaccine preventable diseases page)

How the vaccine is given

The combination vaccine is given as an injection into the thigh if under 12 months of age, or the top of the arm if over 12 months of age.

Possible side effects

Like any medications, the diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough combination vaccines can have some minor and short lasting side effects.

Common side effects may include:

  • a low grade fever of 37 to 38 degrees Celsius
  • pain, redness and swelling where you were immunised
  • nausea
  • feeling unwell
  • joint pain
  • babies receiving the vaccine may become grizzly and unsettled

Booster doses of a diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough combination vaccine can result in extensive limb swelling which involves the area around the injection site becoming red and/or swollen and extending to the shoulder and/or elbow. This resolves completely within a few days and generally requires no treatment.

Rarely, your child may scream continuously for three or more hours.

Very rarely, a severe allergic reaction to the vaccine. Vary rarely babies may experience a limp and unresponsive episode ( hypotonic-hypo responsive episode) which can occur one to 48 hours after vaccination.

If you are concerned or worried, seek further advice from your doctor, immunisation provider, SA Health’s Immunisation Section or healthdirect Australia.

Any unexpected event following immunisation should be reported to SA Health.

Reducing the side effects

Many of the common side effects can be reduced by:

  • drinking extra fluids
  • resting
  • taking paracetamol as per the instructions on the packet/bottle
  • not overdressing if hot.

Where to get immunised

To receive the vaccine contact your doctor, local council, community health centre, midwife or Aboriginal health centre to arrange an appointment. 

For further information on immunisation providers, see the Immunisation services page.

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