Diphtheria Vaccine: Purpose, Possible Side Effects, and Who Should Not Get It

Diphtheria Vaccine: Purpose, Possible Side Effects, and Who Should Not Get It
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Diphtheria, a bacterial infection, is an acute infectious disease. It is spread through respiratory droplets. Those who are carry the bacteria, but do not have symptoms, will sneeze or cough, and when the droplets are breathed in, this infection is spread. It can also be spread through foods or objects that are contaminated. Due to the diphtheria vaccine, this infection is quite rare in developed nations.

What Are the Symptoms of Diphtheria?

About two to five days after being exposed, symptoms start to occur. In some cases, patients experience no symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they include:

  • Bluish skin discoloration
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Stridor
  • Barking cough
  • Fever
  • Painful swallowing
  • Sore throat (mild to severe)
  • Nose with a watery, bloody discharge
  • Rapid breathing
  • Chills
  • Drooling (often indicates upcoming airway blockage)
  • Hoarseness
  • Skin lesions (most often seen in tropical areas)

What is the Diphtheria Vaccine and What is its Purpose?

This vaccine does contain the live bacteria, therefore, those getting this vaccine must receive several doses. The typical dosing schedule is getting a dose at two months old, four months old, six months old, and the last dose between 15 and 18 months old. The diphtheria vaccine should be a part of a child’s routine immunization. This vaccine should be re-administered every ten years and a booster dose (or fifth shot), is recommended between four and six years of age.

Those who are properly dosed with all four doses will experience a protection rate of about 95 percent. To maintain this, it is important to keep up with all future boosters.

What are the Possible Diphtheria Vaccine Side Effects?

This vaccine is generally safe and serious reactions are very rare. Injection site reactions can occur and include:

  • Soreness
  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Pain

Other possible side effects include:

  • Fussiness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Mild fever
  • Tiredness
  • Headache
  • Body aches

Rare reactions should be immediately discussed with the doctor or the child’s doctor. These include:

  • Collapsing or having a seizure after a dose of this vaccine
  • A fever great than 105 degrees Fahrenheit after a dose of this vaccine
  • Persistent crying for at least three hours after a dose of this vaccine

Who Should Not Get the Diphtheria Vaccine?

Certain patients should avoid getting the diphtheria vaccine, or will have to delay getting it. These include:

  • Those who have been allergic to any element of this vaccine
  • Those with a severe, or even a moderate, illness
  • Infantile spasms
  • Epilepsies starting during infancy
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Controlled seizures
  • Infant and childhood stabilized neurologic conditions

All patients should discuss their medical history, and any current or past medications they have taken, with their doctor before getting the diphtheria vaccine. Parents should do this for their infants prior to getting their child vaccinated.


Immunization Action Coalition. (2009). Diphtheria Vaccine. Retrieved on June 23, 2010 from the Immunization Action Coalition: https://www.vaccineinformation.org/diphther/qandavax.asp

Medline Plus. (2009). Diphtheria. Retrieved on June 23, 2010 from Medline Plus: https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001608.htm

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Syringe and Vial: zeathiel – sxc.hu