A vaccine, or immunization, is a medication given to a person so that the person produces antibodies against a certain infection. These antibodies then serve to help prevent the infection.
In the US, vaccines have resulted in record-low levels of certain childhood diseases. Vaccines do not only protect the person they are given to, but also the population at large, since they work to reduce the general prevalence of once-common infections.
The following infections can be prevented by vaccination:
Diphtheria—a throat infection caused by bacteria that may result in breathing problems, coma, and death if not treated
Haemophilus influenzae type B—a bacterial infection occurring primarily in children; if severe, can lead to
meningitis, death, and permanent brain damage
Hepatitis A—an infection caused by the hepatitis A virus that affects the liver
Hepatitis B—an infection caused by the hepatitis B virus that can lead to scarring of the liver and
liver cancerHuman papillomavirus
(HPV)—the virus that causes some warts and is associated with
cervical cancerInfluenza—a common viral infection that most commonly occurs during the winter months
Measles—a viral respiratory infection with a specific rash that may lead to diarrhea, ear infections,
, swelling of the brain, seizures, and death
Meningococcus—a cause of
bacterial meningitis, a serious, often fatal, disease
Mumps—a viral infection of the lymph nodes that may lead to meningitis, inflammation of the testicles, ovaries, or pancreas, and permanent deafness
(whooping cough)—a bacterial respiratory infection that may lead to pneumonia, swelling of the brain, and death, especially in infants
Pneumococcal disease—a bacterial infection that is a common cause of pneumonia in adults but may lead to ear infections and meningitis in childrenPolio—a viral infection of the nervous system that can lead to disability and death
Rotavirus—major cause of potentially life-threatening gastroenteritis (vomiting, diarrhea)
(German measles)—a viral respiratory infection that, when contracted by a pregnant woman, can cause birth defects, including deafness, cataracts, heart abnormalities,
intellectual disability, and liver and spleen damage
(lockjaw)—a bacterial infection of the nervous system that can result in death
(chickenpox)—a herpes virus that may lead to pneumonia and
(swelling of the brain)
The following vaccines are recommended in children who are at average risk for these infections:
DTaP—3 vaccines in one shot given in a series of 5 doses; protects against
pertussis; Tdap is a vaccine recommended as a booster dose in early adolescence
HepA—given in a series of 2 doses to protect against hepatitis A
Hep B—given as a series of 3 shots to help prevent hepatitis B
Hib—given as a series of 3 or 4 shots to help prevent
HPV—given as a series of 3 shots to help prevent HPV, which can cause genital warts and cervical cancer
Influenza—given annually to help prevent the flu
(Some children aged 6 months to 8 years old may need a series of 2 shots.)MCV4—one shot and a booster dose given to protect against bacterial meningitis from MeningococcusMMR—given as 2 shots to protect against measles, mumps, and rubella
PCV—given in a series of 4 doses to protect against the pneumococcal bacteria
Polio vaccine—given in a series of 4 doses to prevent polio
Rotavirus vaccine—given in a series of 2 or 3 doses to protect against rotavirus
Varicella—given as 2 shots to help prevent chickenpox
The table below summarizes when children of average risk should receive certain vaccinations. You may print the table and use the “Date received” column to track when your child receives each vaccine.
|Age||Recommended vaccines||Date received|
|Birth|| HepB (first dose)|
|1-2 months|| HepB (second dose)|
|2 months|| DTaP (first dose)Hib (first dose)PCV (first dose)Polio vaccine (first dose)Rotavirus vaccine (first dose)|
|4 months|| DTaP (second dose)Hib (second dose)PCV (second dose)Polio vaccine (second dose)Rotavirus vaccine (second dose)|
|6 months|| DTaP (third dose)Hib (third dose)PCV (third dose)Rotavirus vaccine (third dose)|
|Yearly after 6 months|| Influenza (Some children aged 6 months to 8 years old may need second dose 4 weeks after the first dose.)|
|6-18 months|| HepB (third dose)Polio vaccine (third dose)|
|12-15 months|| Hib (fourth dose)MMR (first dose)PCV (fourth dose)Varicella (first dose)|
|12-23 months|| HepA (second dose given 6-18 months after first dose)|
|15-18 months|| DTaP (fourth dose)|
|4-6 years|| DTaP (fifth dose)Polio vaccine (fourth dose)MMR (second dose)Varicella (second dose)|
|11-12 years|| Tdap (booster shot to protect against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis)HPV (three doses)MCV4|| age|
|16-18 years|| MCV4 booster|
Certain “high-risk” children may need to receive additional vaccinations and/or doses, or certain vaccinations at an earlier. Also, if your child missed one or more vaccines, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended times for “catch-up” immunizations. Talk to the doctor to find out if this applies to your child.
Childhood vaccines are generally very safe. Some children may experience mild adverse events at the time of the vaccine, including fever, soreness at the vaccine site, or a lump under the skin where the shot was given. Some reactions (MMR) do not appear until weeks after the vaccine is given.
The small risk of serious adverse events is far outweighed by the disease-preventing benefits of vaccines in most cases. However, there are some situations in which children should not receive certain vaccines. Examples of these situations include children who:
Had a life-threatening allergic reaction to a component in the vaccineAre severely ill (wait until the child has recovered)Are taking medications to suppress the immune systemHave certain types of cancer or other diseases
Talk with the doctor to find out if it is safe to have your child vaccinated.
Childhood vaccines: what they are and why your child needs them. American Academy of Family Physicians Family Doctor website. Available at:
http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/kids/vaccines/childhood-vaccines-what-they-are-and-why-your-child-needs-them.html. Updated January 2016. Accessed April 29, 2016.
Immunization schedules. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at:
http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules. Updated February 1, 2016. Accessed April 29, 2016.
Influenza vaccines in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated April 28, 2016. Accessed April 29, 2016.
Influenza vaccines in children. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated January 4, 2016. Accessed April 29, 2016.
Measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella vaccine. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated April 6, 2016. Accessed April 29, 2016.
Vaccine-preventable childhood diseases. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at:
http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd-vac/child-vpd.htm. Updated February 25, 2012. Accessed April 29, 2016.
Last reviewed April 2016 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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