Diphtheria vaccineThe diphtheria vaccine is a ‘toxoid’, which stimulates protection against the deadly toxin (poison) of the diphtheria bug. The vaccine was introduced into the UK on a national scale in 1941. Vaccinating against diphtheria does not prevent people catching diphtheria and spreading it to someone else, but, by acting against the bug’s poison, does make serious illness or death much less likely. The initial course consists of three injections given over a period of between two months and a year. Two additional boosters – at 4 years of age and in the mid-teens – provides protection well into adulthood.
Diphtheria toxoid is one of the safest immunisations. By far the most common side effects are redness, pain and swelling at the site of the injection. A painless nodule, that may last for weeks or months, can form at the injection site; this is believed to be related to the aluminium in the vaccine. Because diphtheria toxoid has been given in combination with other vaccines – whooping cough and tetanus for over 50 years, and more recently Hib and polio as well – side effects from the diphtheria component are difficult to distinguish from side effects from the other constituents of the vaccine. Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), a disorder of the nerves causing, usually temporary, paralysis can probably, though very rarely, be caused by the vaccine.
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