Immunizations give your children their best shot at a healthy life

Child Immunization

Your children are the most important people in your life. You nurture them. You teach them. You care for them. But your most important job is to protect them.

One of the most critical ways you can protect your children is to give them immunizations. Immunizations are special medicines that help protect you or your child from diseases. They also help reduce the spread of disease to other people.

Most immunizations are given as shots. Immunizations are also sometimes called vaccinations.

Here's how vaccines work. When you get a vaccination, you actually get a tiny amount of the disease. This amount is not enough to give your child the actual disease. But it is enough to cause your child's immune system to make antibodies. Antibodies are things in our bodies that fight and help protect us from diseases.

Sometimes a vaccine does not completely prevent the disease. But a vaccine will make the disease much less serious if you do get it. Some immunizations are given only one time. Others require several doses over time.

Why your child needs immunizations

Immunizations protect your child from dangerous diseases. They help reduce the spread of disease to other people. Immunizations also save you money. Getting immunized costs less than getting treated for the diseases. And vaccines have very few serious side effects for children.

You need to make sure your child is up-to-date with his or her vaccinations. They are often needed to get into school or day care. And they may be needed if your family travels to another country. Talk with your doctor months before you leave, to see if you or your family members need any shots.

What immunizations do your children need?

You should always ask your doctor what shots your child should get. The website,, suggests that your child's immunization schedule should include vaccinations for:

  • Bacterial meningitis
  • Chicken pox
  • Diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough
  • Flu
  • Haemophilus influenza type b disease, or Hib disease
  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Measles, mumps, and rubella
  • Pneumococcal disease
  • Polio
  • Rotavirus

Immunizations should begin right after birth. Many are given throughout a baby's first 23 months. Your child will also need booster shots. Booster shots are additional doses of any vaccines that need to be repeated over time. A dose means a specific quantity of the vaccine shot. These shots are given throughout your child's life.

Here is a current vaccination schedule provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Hepatitis B vaccine:

  1. First dose at birth to 2 months
  2. Second dose at 1 to 4 months
  3. Third dose at 6 to 18 months

Hib vaccine:

  1. First dose at 2 months
  2. Second dose at 4 months
  3. Third dose at 6 months
  4. Fourth dose at 12 to 15 months

Polio vaccine:

  1. First dose at 2 months
  2. Second dose at 4 months
  3. Third dose at 6 to 18 months
  4. Fourth dose at 4 to 6 years

DTaP vaccine:

  1. First dose at 2 months
  2. Second dose at 4 months
  3. Third dose at 6 months
  4. Fourth dose at 15 to 18 months
  5. Fifth dose at 4 to 6 years
  6. Sixth dose at 11 years

Pneumococcal vaccine:

  1. First dose at 2 months
  2. Second dose at 4 months
  3. Third dose at 6 months
  4. Fourth dose at 12 to 18 months

Rotavirus vaccine:

  1. First dose at 2 months
  2. Second dose at 4 months
  3. Third dose at 6 months

Hepatitis A vaccine:

  1. First dose at 12 months
  2. Second dose at 18 months

Influenza vaccine:

  1. First dose at 6 months (requires a booster one month after initial vaccination)
  2. Annually until 5 years of age (then yearly if indicated or desired, according to risks)

MMR vaccine:

  1. First dose at 12 to 15 months
  2. Second dose at 4 to 6 years

Varicella vaccine:

  1. First dose at 12 to 15 months
  2. Second dose at 4 to 6 years

Meningococcal vaccine:

  1. Single dose at 11 years

Human papillomavirus vaccine (adolescent girls only):

  1. First dose at 11 years
  2. Second dose two months after first dose
  3. Third dose six months after first dose

As your child gets older, he or she won't need as many shots. Fewer immunizations are needed after age 6. But older children and teens need shots, too. Vaccinations are needed for diseases such as bacterial meningitis, tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough. Some shots are also given when your child becomes an adult. A good example of a vaccination given to adults is for tetanus.

It is important that you keep a good record of your child's immunizations. You should include in your list of any reactions to the vaccines. When your child starts day care or school, you may need proof of immunizations. Your child may also need the records later in life for college, employment, or travel.

Talk to your doctor if your child plans to be in a group living situation. Situations like this include a college dormitory or summer camp. You may want your child to get certain shots, like those for meningitis.

What are the side effects of vaccines?

Most side effects from vaccines are small, if they happen at all. Ask your doctor about the side effects that could happen. They may include:

  • Mild swelling, soreness or if the skin turns red where the shot was given
  • A slight fever
  • Sleepiness or not being hungry
  • A mild rash 7 to 14 days after chicken pox or measles-mumps-rubella shots
  • Short-term joint pain after a measles-mumps-rubella shot
  • Serious side effects, such as trouble breathing or a fever, don't happen often. If your child has an unusual side effect, call your doctor. These side effects may worry parents. But remember, it is much more dangerous for you child to risk getting the diseases.

Can vaccines cause other problems?

There have been unfounded reports linking vaccines to autism. Autism is a brain abnormality that children may get between the ages of one and three. Some parents question whether some vaccines might cause autism. But today, studies have not found a link between vaccines and autism.

Should you pick and choose vaccinations?

In general, skipping vaccinations isn't a good idea. Your child could get to a serious disease that could be avoided. Some children can't receive certain vaccines for medical reasons. So, their only protection from these diseases is the immunity of the people around them. If immunization rates drop, some diseases may once again become common threats.

If you have worries about vaccines, discuss your concerns with your child's doctor. If your child falls behind the standard vaccines schedule, ask the doctor about catch-up immunizations.

What if you miss a shot?

For most vaccines, it is never too late to catch up on missed shots. Children who missed their first shots at 2 months of age can start later. Children who have gotten some of their shots sometimes fall behind schedule. But don't worry, children can catch up without having to start over. Maybe you have a child who was not immunized when he or she was an infant. Or maybe your child has gotten behind schedule. Simply contact your doctor or your local health department clinic. They will help you get your children up-to-date.

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