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Do I need a tetanus vaccine after an accident or injury?

You may need a tetanus vaccine if the injury has broken your skin and your tetanus vaccinations are not up to date.

Tetanus is a serious but rare condition that can be fatal if untreated.

The bacteria that can cause tetanus can enter your body through a wound or cut in your skin. They're often found in soil and manure.

When to get medical advice

See a GP or contact NHS 111 if you're concerned about a wound, particularly if:

  • the wound is deep
  • the wound contains dirt or a foreign object
  • you have not been fully vaccinated against tetanus
  • you're not sure whether you have been fully vaccinated against tetanus

The GP can assess the wound and decide if you need a vaccination or any other treatment.

You may need additional treatment for a serious or dirty wound that's considered to be tetanus-prone.

Go to your nearest A&E department immediately, or call 999 for an ambulance if you develop severe muscle stiffness or spasms.

Tetanus vaccination programme

Tetanus vaccination is part of the NHS vaccination programme.

A full course consists of 5 doses of the tetanus vaccine. This should be enough to give you long-term protection from tetanus.

But if you're not sure how many doses you've received, you may need a booster dose after an injury that breaks your skin.

If you've definitely received 5 doses of the tetanus vaccine, you're fully vaccinated and do not need a booster dose.

Treatment with tetanus immunoglobin

If you have a tetanus-prone wound, additional treatment may be given, even if you've been fully vaccinated.

Tetanus-prone wounds are described as:

  • wounds or burns that need surgery, but where surgery cannot be performed within 24 hours
  • wounds or burns where a significant amount of tissue has been removed, or puncture-type injuries such as animal bites, particularly if they have had contact with soil or manure
  • wounds containing any substance that should not be there, such as dust or dirt (foreign bodies)
  • serious fractures where the bone is exposed and prone to infection (compound fractures)
  • wounds and burns in people who have systemic sepsis, a fall in blood pressure resulting from a serious bacterial infection

If you have a tetanus-prone wound and it's considered to be high risk, treatment with tetanus immunoglobulin is recommended.

Tetanus immunoglobulin is a medicine containing antibodies that prevent the tetanus toxin working, stopping its effects on the nerves. It provides immediate, but short-term, protection from tetanus.

You'll need tetanus immunoglobulin even if you're fully vaccinated against tetanus.

Further information

Page last reviewed: 12 July 2022
Next review due: 12 July 2025