Vaccines for Kids
Vaccines help children stay healthy. A young child’s immune system can ward off some minor illnesses, but it may struggle with more serious disease. This is particularly true for babies, who have not yet been exposed to many diseases in their short lives. Vaccines protect against certain illnesses that may also be harmful or even life-threatening to older children, teens, or adults; vaccination provides protection.
Administering vaccines at the recommended times helps keep children safe from severe illness. Many diseases that now can be prevented by vaccination often led to disability or death in children decades ago, before vaccines were available.
Vaccines also keep the general population healthier by providing what’s called “herd immunity.” When a majority of people are vaccinated against a specific disease, that vaccination level significantly reduces that disease’s ability to spread through the population. This protects the minority of people who are not vaccinated, including babies who are too young for certain vaccinations and children who are receiving chemotherapy and are unable to receive vaccines.
Vaccines are considered safe. Some may cause minor side effects, such as fever and pain at the injection site, for a day or two. However, the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the drawbacks—the serious illnesses vaccines protect against may lead to hospitalization, disability, or death.
What are childhood immunizations?
Childhood immunization is the term that refers to vaccines that babies, children, and teens receive to protect them from serious diseases. The term “immunize” simply means that vaccines help protect children and adolescents against various diseases.
How do vaccines work?
Vaccines activate the immune system, training it to fight off particular viruses or bacteria it may encounter. A vaccine may contain a weakened version of a virus or bacteria that causes disease. This material cannot make a person sick, but it can trigger a response from the immune system so it’s poised to fight back against that disease if it encounters it in the future.
People receive vaccines throughout their lives, from infancy through adulthood. Some vaccines, such as the flu shot, are intended to be given annually. Others may not be given again after childhood.
To become immune to certain conditions, babies need more than one dose of some vaccines. The timing and number of those immunizations are guided by the Immunization Schedules from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
How are vaccines for kids administered?
Most childhood vaccines are given by injection. When babies and toddlers are given vaccines by injection, the needle is inserted into the thigh. For children and teens, vaccines are injected into the upper arm, as with adults.
It’s possible for children to take certain immunizations by mouth. And one method for administering the flu vaccine is via nasal spray.
What vaccines are available to children?
A variety of vaccines are available to children on a recommended schedule, which ensures that children won’t receive a vaccine when they are too young for their immune systems to handle it.
The vaccines, listed in order by age, are:
- Hepatitis B (HepB) vaccine. This vaccine protects against hepatitis B for life. Babies usually get the first dose within 24 hours of birth. They get the second and third doses within the next year and a half of life.
- Rotavirus (RV) vaccine. Babies begin getting the first of three doses at 2 months of age and should be finished by 6 or 8 months. The vaccine protects against rotavirus, which can cause diarrhea and vomiting in babies and toddlers.
- Diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTaP) vaccine. To protect against these three diseases, children need five doses of this vaccine, beginning at 2 months and ending at age 4, 5, or 6.
- Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) vaccine. This vaccine protects against bacterial meningitis. Children receive three or four doses, beginning at 2 months and ending between 12 and 15 months.
- Pneumococcal conjugate (PCV13 and PCV15) vaccine. Babies receive their first of four doses at 2 months and their last dose between 12 and 15 months. The vaccine protects against diseases caused by pneumococcal bacteria such as ear infections, pneumococcal pneumonia, and pneumococcal meningitis.
- Inactivated poliovirus (IPV) vaccine. Beginning at 2 months and ending at 6 years of age, children receive four doses of this vaccine, which protects against polio.
- Influenza vaccine. This vaccine protects against flu for everyone ages 6 months and older. A nasal-spray vaccine is available for children ages 2 and older. Flu vaccines are given annually, typically in October or November, at the start of flu season. The first time a baby or child under age 9 receives a flu shot, they need two doses, administered one month apart. From then on, only one annual dose will be required.
- COVID-19 vaccine. Vaccines are now available for children as young as 6 months to protect against COVID-19. In the United States, vaccines manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Novavax are available for children. Kids ages 6 months to 4 years should get three doses of the bivalent Pfizer vaccine, while kids ages 5 only need one dose of the bivalent Pfizer vaccine. For Moderna, children ages 6 months to 5 years should get two doses of the bivalent vaccine. The CDC recommends that children ages 6 and older should receive a minimum of one bivalent vaccine dose. The Novavax vaccine is also authorized for use as a two-dose primary series in people 12 and older who cannot receive or decide not to get a bivalent Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.
- Measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine. At age 1, a child gets their first dose of this vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps, and German measles (rubella). They get a second, final dose between ages 4 and 6.
- Varicella vaccine. This vaccine protects against chickenpox (varicella). Children get one dose between 12 and 18 months and another dose between 4 and 6 years.
- Hepatitis A (HepA) vaccine. Children need two doses, given 6 months apart, of this vaccine, which protects against hepatitis A. The first dose is typically given between 12 and 23 months. It may be administered at any time up to 18 years for those who miss the initial dose.
- Tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (Tdap) booster vaccine. Children ages 11 or older get this booster that protects against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis.
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. This vaccine protects against cancer-causing infections and pre-cancerous human papillomavirus, a form of cancer that the vaccine can prevent. The CDC recommends that everyone aged 11 to 26 get vaccinated against HPV. However, HPV vaccinations may be given starting at age 9 and, in adults, up to age 45. People in these age groups should talk to their doctor about getting vaccinated against HPV.
- Meningococcal vaccine. There are 2 vaccines necessary to protect against the different forms of the Neisseria meningitidis bacteria. The first is typically given at age 11 or 12, then again at age 16. The second, known as Meningitis B vaccine, is recommended at age 16 and then a second dose at least a month later.
How do I know which vaccines my child needs?
Your child’s pediatrician should keep you informed about the recommended schedule of vaccinations and will let you know when it’s time for your child to get their next vaccine. Vaccines are often administered at well visits, but it’s possible to schedule an appointment just for vaccination.
Are vaccines safe?
Yes, vaccines are safe for children.
Every year, the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and other medical organizations decide which vaccines should be listed on the recommended vaccine schedule for children. They make these decisions with child safety in mind.
Children may get short-lived side effects from vaccines, such as muscle aches, low-grade fever, or fussiness. These are not dangerous; they are signs that the vaccine is interacting with the child’s immune system and building protection.
In very rare instances, a child may have a negative reaction to a vaccine. However, adverse reactions tend to be less risky than exposure to vaccine-preventable diseases.
Is there anyone who should not be vaccinated?
Vaccines are generally safe for healthy babies, children, and teens. If your child has an allergy, let your pediatrician know beforehand. Some vaccines may not be recommended for children who are allergic to eggs, latex, yeast, gelatin, or other substances.
If your child had a severe reaction to the first dose of a vaccine, let your pediatrician know. This may affect your child’s ability to get the next dose or doses of that vaccine.
If your child is sick on the day when they are scheduled to get vaccinated, ask the pediatrician whether or not the shot should be delayed. It may depend on the severity of your child’s illness.
What makes Yale unique in its approach to childhood immunization?
“Many of the faculty members of the Yale Pediatric Infectious Disease Section are members of the organizations that study and review childhood immunizations and make recommendations for the yearly immunization schedule put forward by the CDC,” says Yale Medicine pediatrician Maryellen Flaherty-Hewitt, MD. “Primary care pediatricians working in the Section of General Pediatrics provide care to children from birth to young adulthood and are adept at having evidence-based discussions with patients and their families about the importance of childhood immunizations. Prevention of childhood disease through immunization is one of the most important jobs of the pediatrician.”