Your Child's Immunization Schedule
One of the greatest health achievements of our time has been the near elimination of the common childhood infectious illnesses. However, these "bad bugs" are still in our environment, and our children need their immune systems to be ready to protect against them.
Through immunizations, your baby is protected from serious diseases like polio, whooping cough, and all the others listed on the chart below. Young infants are at the greatest risk, so babies need all of these immunizations before their second birthday. Because vaccines are always being improved and because different brands of shots may be slightly different, your own healthcare provider may have a slightly different schedule of shots for your baby. Double-check with your healthcare provider at each visit to make sure your baby is up to date. New vaccines are on the horizon, so don't be surprised by changes in this schedule.
At ages 4 to 6 and 11 to 12, your child will need to have "boosters," additional shots, as well as other recommended immunizations for older children and teens, such as HPV and meningitis vaccines. Be sure to keep your child's immunization record all through childhood and bring it to each health visit. Children with special health concerns may need additional shots or will need the schedule varied to suit their situation. Preemies will need their shots at the correct ages, not at times adjusted for their prematurity. Should your child miss an immunization and need to catch up, there are guidelines to get your child up to date.
Here are descriptions of the diseases the vaccines prevent for infants and young children.
DIPHTHERIA (the "D" in the DTaP vaccine). Diphtheria is a serious respiratory illness that causes a thick coating or film in the nose, throat, and air passages, which can lead to breathing problems, heart failure, paralysis, and even death. Up to 20 percent of people who get the disease die from it. Very young infants are at the greatest risk, although unprotected adults can get and transmit the disease, too.
HEMOPHILUS INFLUENZA/ TYPE B (Hib vaccine). Hemophilus influenza is a bacterial infection that can cause pneumonia, meningitis, severe swelling in the throat, and other serious infections. It is not influenza (aka "the flu"). It's a regular cause of bacterial otitis, middle ear infections. Before the vaccine, hemophilus influenza killed or seriously disabled thousands of children. It is most common in children under 5.
HEPATITIS A (the Hep-A shot). Hepatitis A is a viral infection of the liver, causing fever, tiredness, jaundice, and loss of appetite. Although most children have few or no symptoms, infected adults can be sick for months or even years. Hepatitis A is transmitted most often from person to person through fecal contamination and commonly occurs in certain communities in outbreaks. Very young children in developing countries tend to get this disease, although more than 25,000 cases are reported in the United States every year. In addition to the Hep-A vaccine, immunoglobulin shots are often administered to provide additional protection to children over 2 who are at risk because of household or community exposure.
HEPATITIS B. Serum hepatitis (HBV) is a viral disease of the liver that can be very serious, even leading to liver failure or chronic liver disease. More than a million people carry this virus in the United States. Three doses of hepatitis B vaccine are needed for full protection. Adolescents and adults may also get this series for protection. Those who have had the disease may have an increased chance of getting liver cancer later in life, so early protection has long- and short-term effects. Transmission from mom to baby may occur during birth, while others get the disease through contact with infected blood. People who share a household with someone who has Hep-B can get it, and it's also spread through sexual intercourse. Although this series is best given at birth, children, adolescents, or adults who haven't gotten the shots should get the series as soon as possible.
MEASLES (the first "M" of the MMR vaccine). Measles (also called "red" or "hard" measles) is a viral illness causing a rash, cough, and fever that can lead to diarrhea, ear infections, pneumonia, brain damage, or death. Children at greatest risk are those who are malnourished or have chronic illnesses. Measles outbreaks occur every year in the United States, and it is a common illness around the globe.
MUMPS (the second "M" of the MMR vaccine). Mumps causes fever, headache, and swelling of the parotid gland in front of the ear. In some cases it leads to meningitis, an infection of the brain and spinal cord, or encephalitis, a swelling of the brain. It can also lead to hearing loss, and, in boys and men, can cause swollen testicles and possibly infertility. Mumps can be very serious and very painful in adults, so it's best to get immunized early in life.
PERTUSSIS (the "P" in the DTaP vaccine). Pertussis, or whooping cough, causes coughing and choking that lasts for weeks. The coughing spell is followed by the characteristic "whoop" of the child trying to catch her breath. Vomiting afterwards is common. Pertussis can lead to pneumonia, seizures, brain damage, or death. Very young unimmunized children are at the greatest risk and often need to be hospitalized if they become ill. Adults who catch pertussis may become very sick, but they usually recover after weeks or months. Unfortunately, they may pass the disease along to infants and young children.
PNEUMOCOCCAL DISEASES. The pneumococcus bacterium can cause pneumonia and meningitis and is the most common bacterial cause of ear infections. There are several subtypes of pneumococcus, and vaccines protect against some — but not all — of them. Young infants are at greatest risk for these infections. Children over 7 months and under 5 years who missed the shot as infants will benefit from one or more of these shots.
POLIO (IPV, the injectable polio vaccine, administered as a shot, or in a few cases, OPV, the oral polio vaccine, administered in the mouth). Polio is a common virus that causes fever, sore throat, nausea, headaches, diarrhea, stomachaches, and stiffness and weakness in the neck, back, and legs. It's considered an old-fashioned disease that caused paralysis. However, it's only old-fashioned because so many of us received the vaccine. The injectable form is now preferred, as the oral vaccine — which has never caused any cases of polio — allows the altered virus to get into the environment through bowel movements. However, for those going to a foreign country where polio is common, or if there is an epidemic, the oral form gives the best protection for the individual, as the virus enters the body through the gastrointestinal tract.
ROTAVIRAL GASTROENTERITIS. Rotaviral gastroenteritis is an intestinal viral infection that occurs primarily in infants and toddlers. It occurs most commonly in the winter and early spring, and usually starts with lots of vomiting that then progresses on to watery diarrhea that can last five to seven days. The most common serious complication with the illness is dehydration, which can be so severe that it can require hospitalization and cause death in malnourished children. Infants and toddlers with the illness should be carefully watched for signs of dehydration such as decreased urination, dry mouth, reduced tears, and lethargy. Children who have received the Rotavirus vaccination usually do not get the illness or have a milder form of illness that does not lead to severe dehydration.
RUBELLA (the "R" of the MMR vaccine). Also known as "German measles," rubella is a mild viral illness that causes a rash on the face and neck, mild fever, and swollen glands. It can cause arthritis, especially in women and girls. If pregnant women become infected, their babies can have birth defects or die. Immunization in childhood protects the next generation, as well as pregnant women in the environment.
TETANUS (the "T" in the DTaP vaccine). Tetanus causes serious and painful muscle tightening and is often deadly. It's sometimes called "lockjaw" because it causes the muscles in the jaw to "lock," making it difficult or impossible to eat. Breathing failure causes death. The bacteria live in dirt and thrive when they get into deep cuts or puncture wounds.
VARICELLA ZOSTER (the VZV shot). Commonly called chicken pox (or shingles), this is a highly contagious infection with a blistering rash on the scalp and body developing over the course of three to four days, as well as respiratory symptoms. In most cases, it's not seriously harmful to healthy children, but it can be very serious for small infants, older children and adults who haven't had the disease (or the vaccine), people with immune deficiencies, and for some children who have eczema or are taking certain medications (for example, salicylates). Each year almost 10,000 people are hospitalized for chicken pox, and about 100 die. The disease lasts seven to 21 days, and its long incubation period means that children harboring the disease will pass it on to hundreds of people before anyone knows they are ill. Children must stay out of daycare or school until they are no longer infectious. Pneumonia, serious skin infection, brain damage, and other problems can complicate the disease. Non-immune women may give birth to infants who are at serious risk if they're exposed to chicken pox during infancy. Most people who get the shot will be protected, but some immunized people who get the shot will get a mild case of the disease.
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