Combination Vaccines for Childhood Immunization: What Parents Need to Know
Childhood vaccines are crucial for preventing deadly diseases, but getting shots certainly isn't fun for anyone involved. Nowadays there's a way to get effective protection with less hassle: combination vaccines, which put multiple different vaccines together into one shot.
Combination vaccines can reduce the total number of shots your baby needs, which also means fewer tears, says Todd Wolynn, M.D., MMM, IBCLC, chief executive officer of Kids Plus Pediatrics. They also make it easier for kids to get all their shots on time.
Keep reading for more about combination vaccine benefits and safety data, and learn about the ones frequently given to children today-including the new VAXELIS vaccine that protects against six diseases at once.
What Are Combination Vaccines?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a recommended immunization schedule for children and adolescents. It includes several important vaccines, such the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine (MMR); hepatitis B vaccine (HepB); inactivated polio vaccine (IPV); Haemophilus influenzae type b vaccine (Hib); diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis vaccine (DTaP); and more.
In years past, these vaccines were given individually, so your kid needed plenty of needle jabs for optimal protection. Combination shots take some of these vaccines and merge them together. "So, at a doctor's visit, your child may only get two or three shots to protect him from five diseases, instead of five individual shots," according to the CDC.
Medical organizations-such as the CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)-recommend using combination vaccines instead of separate shots in most cases. "To minimize the number of injections children receive, parenteral combination vaccines should be used, if licensed and indicated for the patient's age, instead of their equivalent component vaccines," said the AAP in a statement.
The Benefits of Combination Vaccines
Combination vaccines have been around since the mid-1940s, and they're just as effective as individual vaccines given separately, says Dr. Wolynn. He adds that combination vaccines have one major advantage: fewer shots for your baby, which also means reduced pain and discomfort.
There are some other combination vaccine benefits as well. For example, children won't need to visit the doctor as much, so parents can take less time off of work for appointments. And because of the reduced burden, combination vaccines promote on-time vaccinations, allowing more kids to receive optimal disease protection.
Types of Combination Vaccines for Kids
In June 2021, a new combination vaccine called VAXELIS was launched in America. Made by Merck and Sanofi Pasteur, it's the first ever "hexavalent" vaccine that protects against six different diseases-diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, poliomyelitis, hepatitis B, and Haemophilus influenzae type b. VAXELIS is approved for use as a series of three doses for children between 6 weeks and 4 years old.
"As the first six-in-one vaccine in the U.S., VAXELIS is now available to help protect infants and children against diseases caused by six infectious agents. We are proud to offer this vaccine to healthcare professionals and the patients they serve," said Elaine O'Hara, Head of Sanofi Pasteur Commercial Operations North America, in a press release. "Studies have shown that combination vaccines may help increase vaccination compliance and reduce disease burden by improving vaccine timeliness and coverage rates."
Here are some other combination vaccines frequently used in kids, according to the CDC:
Pediarix: Combines the DTaP, HepB, and IPV shots to protect against five diseases (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, hepatitis B, and polio).
Pentacel: Combines the DTaP, IPV, and Hib vaccines to protect against five diseases (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, and Haemophilus influenzae type b)
Kinrix: Combines the DTaP and IPV vaccines to protect against four diseases (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, and polio)
ProQuad: Combines the MMR and varicella (chickenpox) shots to protect against four diseases (measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella).
Side Effects of Combination Vaccines
Side effects are generally mild, and they include pain at the injection site, swelling, and low-grade fever (less than 100.5 degrees F). Combination vaccines may cause slightly more pain and swelling than individual shots, but the side effects are pretty similar overall. Plus, "if your child got the shots individually, he or she might have pain or swelling in two or three spots, instead of just one," adds the CDC.
Inform your doctor right away if your child has side effects that seem severe (although this is extremely rare). The doctor may want your child to finish their vaccine schedule with individual shots.
Are Combination Vaccines Safe?
Parents may wonder if it's safe to get so many immunizations at once, but Dr. Wolynn stresses that combination vaccines are just as safe as individual vaccines given separately. Indeed, before being released to the public, they must go through rigorous testing to ensure safety and effectiveness. Scientists also watch for any vaccine reactions after the shots are widely distributed, according to the CDC. Scientists have not found any link between vaccines and autism.
Note, however, that the CDC recommends that everyone under 4 years old receive the first dose of MMR and chickenpox vaccines separately. That's because the combined vaccine (MMRV) has been associated with a slightly higher risk of febrile seizures in those who got their first shot between 12 through 23 months of age-although this isn't common.