Today, tetanus is a rare disease in England and Wales although in less developed and less affluent areas of the World it is still a major cause of morbidity and mortality, particularly in neonates and women following childbirth. An estimated 400,000 deaths worldwide occur annually from neonatal tetanus and in 1989 the World Health Organization adopted the goal of eliminating neonatal tetanus as a public health problem by 1995-2000. This goal has not yet been achieved worldwide; however in England and Wales tetanus in neonates and young women has been extremely rare for the last 50 years. We can attribute the success in eliminating tetanus in the UK to the adoption of highly effective preventative measures as we know that the causative organism is still ubiquitous in the environment. This article outlines how we have achieved the elimination of tetanus in the UK through the development and introduction of appropriately targeted immunisation, combined with an appreciation of the importance of adequate wound toilet measures. The discovery of tetanus toxoid and its applicability for vaccination has been of great benefit and the new challenges which we face relate to the introduction of new multi-component vaccines and how we might better protect the elderly. In other parts of the world, for the cost of a few pence, one dose of tetanus toxoid can still mean the difference between life and death.