The Most Important Vaccines for Children: An A-Z List for Parents
An easy-to-digest list of all your child's immunizations from birth to age 18, plus where they fall within the CDC's age-recommended vaccine schedule.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends following the childhood vaccine schedule as the best way to keep your child as safe as possible from dangerous, preventable diseases.
For the best possible immunity, the time-sensitive schedule should be followed as recommended. The safety of the combination of vaccines is proven safe and monitored by the CDC. The 2020 CDC age-recommended vaccine schedule can be found here.
Here's a snapshot of the most important vaccines your child will get from birth to 18 years old.
Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis (DTaP)
When it's given: At 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15-18 months, and 4-6 years
What it protects from: DTaP protects the body from three life-threatening, toxin-releasing bacterial diseases: diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (whooping cough). Diphtheria affects the nose and throat and may cause nerve, heart, and kidney damage in small children. This bacteria is passed through sneezes, coughs, and can live on objects that babies may touch. Tetanus bacteria, most often found in soil, gets into the body through a deep cut and causes the jaw to lock up, making it impossible to open the mouth or swallow.
Pertussis is a highly contagious disease that primarily affects babies under six months, causing coughing and choking spells that can become severe and potentially deadly. Pertussis was a significant cause of childhood death before the vaccine became routine.
Read more about the DTaP Vaccine
Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis (Tdap) for older children and adults
When it's given: At 11-12 years, and every ten years after that
What it protects from: Tdap is a weaker version of DTaP, given to older children and adults. This vaccine boosts the immune system so it will keep forming antibodies. The pertussis vaccine is highly recommended for pregnant women during each pregnancy at 27-36 weeks gestation so protective antibodies will pass to the infant at birth. Pertussis is particularly deadly to babies under six months.
Read more about the Tdap Vaccine
Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)
When it's given: At 2 months, 4 months, sometimes 6 months, and 12-15 months
What it protects from: Haemophilus influenzae type b bacteria can cause many types of infections such as infections of the blood, lungs (pneumonia), the tissue covering of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis), throat, skin, and joints. Coughs, sneezes, and direct contact from an infected person can pass the bacteria. Due to the risk of hospitalization and severe consequences, the CDC recommends the Hib vaccine for all children younger than two.
Read more about the Haemophilus Influenzae Type B (Hib) Vaccine
Hepatitis B (HepB)
When it's given: At birth, 1-2 months, and 6-18 months
What it protects from: Hepatitis B infection can cause liver damage, kidney disease, blood vessel problems, and liver failure. Babies with hepatitis B may have slow, persistent liver damage through life. There is no cure for this virus, so doctors recommend that all newborns begin the HepB vaccine series before leaving the hospital as a preventative to liver disease and cancer from the virus.
Read more about the Hepatitis B Vaccine
Hepatitis A (HAV Vaccine)
When it's given: At 12-23 months and 6-18 months after the first dose
What it protects from: Hepatitis A is a contagious liver infection found in poop and can spread rapidly through childcare centers and places where children frequent such as parks and pools. This virus, which mainly affects older children, causes chiefly flu-like symptoms and pain in the liver, sometimes leading to a blockage and backup of bile into the blood. Getting the vaccine can limit outbreaks by preventing the passing of the virus to the community.
Read more about the Hepatitis A Vaccine
Human papillomavirus (HPV)
If it's given: At between at 9-14 years, the second dose is given 6-12 months after the first.
If it's given: At 15+ years, the second dose is given 1-2 months after the first, and a third is given 6 months after the second.
What it protects from: Human papillomavirus is usually a sexually-transmitted disease that is easily passed between partners since most people do not even realize they have it. The vaccine is recommended for preteens and teens before they become sexually active. Research shows that the HPV vaccine can significantly reduce the incidence of HPV-related, potentially fatal cancers in both men and women.
Read more about the HPV Vaccine
When it's given: At 6+ months and every flu season
What it protects from: Influenza is a very contagious and potentially deadly virus that infects the respiratory tract causing cough, sore throat, fever, stuffy nose, body aches, headaches, extreme fatigue, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea. The CDC recommends that all people over the age of six months receive the flu vaccine every flu season around the end of October. The vaccine may not be completely effective every year, but it still can reduce the severity and duration of the disease.
Read more about the Flu Vaccine
Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR)
When it's given: At 12-15 months and 4-6 years
What it protects from: Measles, mumps, and rubella are three contagious viruses with rubella being the mildest of the three, yielding fever, tender lymph nodes, and a rash. The mumps causes the glands between the ear and jaw to enlarge and become very painful. The measles can spread quickly through a community and creates a full-body rash, respiratory infection, fever, and sometimes severe consequences that may lead to death.
Outbreaks are now rare due to the effectiveness of the vaccine; however, falling vaccine rates are allowing diseases to pop back up in communities. Although this vaccine has gotten some bad press, the research shows that MMR is not linked to autism.
Read more about the Measles Mumps Rubella (MMR) Vaccine
Meningococcal B (MCV, MenB)
When it's given: At 11-12 years and 16 years
What it protects from: Meningococcal vaccines protect against several types of meningococcal bacteria, which may cause serious bacterial infections that can lead to infection in the bloodstream and meningitis. These diseases can be life-threatening if not treated quickly. MCV protects against four strains of the bacteria and MenB, a vaccine given to highly at-risk children, protects against the fifth. These vaccines are highly effective with low side effects.
Read more about the Meningcoccal Vaccine
When it's given: At 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, and 12-15 months
What it protects from: Streptococcus pneumoniae causes anywhere from ear infections, bronchitis, and sinusitis, to infection of the blood leading to sepsis, meningitis, and pneumonia. This common bacteria is spread through coughs and sneezes often by people who may not even know they have it. The vaccines for these diseases offer protection from many types of Streptococcus bacteria. The CDC and AAP recommend all children under two be vaccinated to avoid severe illness, hospitalization, and even death.
Read more about the PCV13 Vaccine
When it's given: At 2 months, 4 months, 6-18 months,12-18 months, and 4-6 years
What it protects from: Polio is a contagious respiratory virus that invades the spinal cord and brain, causing anywhere from flu-like symptoms to neurological disease, severe debilitating paralysis, and death. Babies with polio may never recover from nerve damage that can leave limbs paralyzed.
- RELATED: 7 Newborn Vaccines Your Baby Needs
The inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) is nearly 99% effective, according to the CDC. Due to the vaccine, this debilitating and crippling disease has been eliminated from all but three countries. Should vaccine rates remain high, there is the possibility of polio eradication in the near future.
Read more about the Inactivated Polio Vaccine
When it's given: At 2 months, 4 months, and sometimes 6 months
What it protects from: Rotavirus is highly contagious and passes quickly through daycare centers and places small children play. A child with the virus may have a fever, vomiting, cramps, and watery diarrhea. The vaccine, given by mouth, will help protect babies from severe diarrhea that may cause dehydration and hospitalization.
Read more about the Rotavirus Vaccine
When it's given: At 12-15 months and 4-6 years
What it protects from: The varicella vaccine protects children from the chickenpox, a virus that causes itchy, red bumps, and may be severe enough to send a child to the hospital. This very contagious viral illness can cause debilitating and painful reoccurrence of chickenpox, called shingles, later in life. The varicella vaccine not only dramatically reduces the risk of the chickenpox but is also very effective in reducing the risk of getting shingles later in life.
Read more about the Chickenpox Vaccine
Taryn Chapman, otherwise known as The Vaccine Mom, is a medical molecular biologist and mother of two. You can find more at www.thevaccinemom.com
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