From birth a child is exposed to all kinds of germs, including some that cause serious and life-threatening illnesses. Vaccines have been developed for many of these disease. Each vaccine has been rigorously studied in laboratories for 10 to 15 years before being approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) collects and archives vaccine-related information and research. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which includes experts from the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners, American Academy of Pediatrics and other groups, studies the scientific evidence to determine the most effective vaccine schedule, which is evaluated and updated annually.
By starting at birth, the vaccine schedule calls for immunizations when your child might be most susceptible to disease, and allows your child to build immunity to certain diseases early in life for the greatest benefit. Without the vaccines, children may not be able to fight off these illnesses on their own. Therefore, it is very important to stay on top of the schedule.
Current recommended vaccines, and the ages at which they should be received to protect your child most effectively, follow.
Three doses: birth, 1 to 2 months and 6 to 18 months. Hepatitis is a disease that causes inflammation in the liver. Type B is spread through bodily fluids and can cause short-term and long-term illnesses, including liver cancer later in life.
Two or three doses depending on vaccine brand: 2 and 4 months and, possible 6 months. Rotavirus causes severe vomiting, diarrhea and dehydration.
Diphtheria, Tetanus and Acellular Pertussis (DTaP)
Five doses: 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15 to 18 months and 4 to 6 years. Tetanus is often called lockjaw because it causes problems opening the mouth, swallowing and breathing. Diphtheria is a bacterial infection that causes a range of mild-to-serious symptoms. Pertussis is also called whooping cough because of a characteristic whoop noise made when an ill person breathes in after a coughing jag.
Haemophilus Influenzae Type B (HIB)
Three doses: 2 months, 4 months and 12 to 15 months. HIB causes meningitis, and inflammation of the brain that can lead to permanent brain damage and death. It can also cause an extensive skin infection.
Pneumococcal Conjugate (PCV13)
Four doses: 2 months, 4 months, 6 months and 12 to 15 months. Pneumococcal bacteria cause meningitis, and inflammation of the brain that can lead to permanent brain damage and death.
Four doses: 2 months, 4 months, 6 to 18 months and 4 to 6 years. Polio is a viral illness that can cause a person to become paralyzed. Although few people contract polio in the U.S. thanks to 50-plus years of vaccine availability, the disease still exists in this country and unimmunized people can contract it.
Given every year starting at 6 months. Two doses are required the first year in children younger than 9 years old to prime their immune system. Influenza, commonly known as the flu, can cause mild-to-severe respiratory illness in the nose, throat and lungs. It is essential that people can get an annual influenza immunization because the disease changes from year to year, and the vaccine is modified to address those changes.
Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR)
Two doses: 12 to 15 months and 4 to 6 years. Measles is a highly contagious illness that includes a fever, cough, runny nose, red eyes, a sore throat and a head-to-toe rash. Measles can cause life-threatening encephalitis and pneumonia. Mumps is an infection of the salivary glands that causes the cheeks and jaw to swell. It can also cause inflammation in sex organs. Rubella causes a fever and a rash on the face and neck. It can be very dangerous to pregnant women.
Two doses: 12 to 15 months and 4 to 6 years. Varicella is also known as chicken pox. It can cause fever, tiredness and an itchy blister rash. Contracting varicella can lead to the severe condition known as shingles later in life.
Two doses: 12 months and 18 to 30 months. Immunization is not required in all states based on risk in geographical area. Hepatitis A attacks the liver. The virus is found in the stool of an infected person. It is spread to people in close contact by eating or drinking contaminated foods.
Two doses: 11 to 12 years and 16 years. Meningococcal disease causes meningitis, a serious infection of the brain and spinal fluid, and blood infections.
Tetanus, Diphtheria and Acellular Pertussis (TDaP)
One dose at 11 to 12 years. This vaccine contains the same ingredients in different amounts as DTaP for younger children.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
If 11 to 12 years old: 2 doses, 6 months apart. If 15 years or older: 3 doses at first month, 1 to 2 months later and 6 months later. HPV is so common that almost everyone will come in contact with the virus during his or her lifetime. There are about 40 different types of HPV. Some strains of HPV cause genital warts, and some strains cause cervical, anal, genital and mouth cancers in woman and men. The HPV vaccine is the only vaccine that can prevent cancer. It is given during early adolescence because studies show that the body builds immunity to HPV best at this age. Your child needs to receive it before exposure to be fully protected.
No one wants their child to receive extra shots, so following your provider’s advice on when to vaccinate is essential. While you may read about alternative schedules, they may not be based on the best evidence and may call for being vaccinated for a disease after the greatest risk period. Your child’s health is important to you, your provider and your community.
Jennifer Uzzell, MSN, APRN, CPNP-PC, began her nursing career in the Neonatal ICU. A PNP since 2001, she enjoys parent education, addressing breastfeeding concerns and encouraging good nutrition.