As a parent, keeping your children safe and healthy is a top priority. This includes things like timely vaccinations and well child checkups. In the United States vaccinations are assigned a specific schedule based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics. The heading above would seem to indicate that some vaccines are more important than others. This is not true. Each vaccine is carefully evaluated before being added to the list of recommended immunizations. They have all been properly vetted and are all important.

It’s important to note that the list and schedule can sometimes vary from one state to the next. Nevertheless, there is a standard roster of vaccinations that most children will need to get before their 18th birthday. Many schools, summer camps, child care facilities, sports teams, and universities typically require documentation of these vaccinations as a requirement for attendance.

The 12 common vaccinations on the schedule are recommended for elementary as well as high school years. Making yourself aware of them and their timing will help you be better informed, and help you prepare your child for the vaccination they are about to receive.

What Are The 12 Recommended Childhood Vaccinations?

The following vaccinations listed alphabetically can be administered on schedule by your child’s pediatrician at the recommended ages.

Chickenpox (varicella) vaccine

Some ask why children need protection from this common childhood disease. The answer is straightforward. Prior to vaccination, the average length of a chicken pox infection was one to two weeks. While many infections are mild, the child needs to remain home during this time because they are contagious. That means parents miss work or need to provide for child care. As tens of thousands of children were affected by this disease each year, the cost and burden of the disease could be quite high. On the other hand, the disease is sometimes severe, or can cause a bacterial secondary infection that can be serious and sometimes fatal. Why bear the burden of that cost, or take that chance when vaccination is so safe and so effective? Varicella vaccine is typically administered between 12 and 15 months old. Children need a booster shot at 4 to 6 years of age. Children older than 6 but younger than 13 who have not had chickenpox vaccine need two doses administered a few months apart.

Diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis vaccine (DTaP)

This is a combination vaccine for Diphtheria, Tetanus and Pertussis. Diphtheria is a throat infection; the bacteria generates a toxin that can cause serious neurologic or cardiac symptoms. Tetanus is a bacterial infection caused by contact with the bacteria which is often found in dirt and can contaminate metal and other objects exposed to the elements. The infection secretes a toxin which causes severe muscle contraction, giving it the nickname “lockjaw” because of its effect on the jaw muscles. Pertussis is a severe respiratory infection that is very contagious and is particularly severe in children under a year of age. In this age group, it can lead to apnea and death. The vaccine is typically given at two, four, six and 15 to 18 months. A booster is given at age five. Tdap, a slightly modified version of the DTaP vaccine, is given after age 11 years in preparation for middle school, and every 10 years thereafter. Because of the severity of pertussis disease in infants and very young children, parents and caretakers of newborns should also get Tdap.

Hepatitis A vaccine (HepA)

Typically administered around 15 to 18 months of age, this vaccine is then followed by a second dose at least 6 to 18 months later. It helps prevent the systemic infection and liver damage caused by infectious Hepatitis A as well as other medical complications. Infectious hepatitis A is the type of liver inflammation and jaundice caused by contaminated food or by food handlers who are contagious. There are several outbreaks reported each year in the local or national news. Vaccination is both safe and effective.

Hepatitis B vaccine (HepB)

This vaccination is typically administered very early and is done in three different doses to help protect against Hepatitis B infection and the damage it can cause to the liver. The first is administered shortly after birth to prevent Hepatitis B infection that may be acquired during the birthing process. The second is administered around 1 to 2 months of age, with the final dose being administered at 6 to 18 months of age. Hepatitis B vaccine is much more effective when given to very young children, hence the other reason the first dose is offered in the nursery.
Hib Vaccine – This vaccine for Haemophilus influenzae type b bacteria is typically administered in multiple small doses at 2, 4, and 6 months old. Then a booster is given around 12 to 15 months old. Haemophilus influenzae type b causes devastating problems in children including infections of the blood, joints, lungs, brain and other organ systems. The vaccine is very effective at preventing these serious infections.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine

The Human papillomavirus (HPV) has been linked to an increased risk of developing cervical and other cancers, as well as genital warts. As one of the most contagious of the recognized STIs (sexually transmitted infections), it is spread through skin-to skin-contact. It is recommended for girls and boys to receive the HPV vaccine beginning around 11 to 12 years old as a two dose series 6-18 months apart. The vaccine is much more effective when given to younger children. After age 15 years, a third dose is needed for the vaccine to be as effective as two doses in younger children.

Influenza vaccine

Also known as the “Flu”, influenza is a serious annually recurring infection. The influenza vaccine can be administered to prevent the infection starting at 6 to 12 months of age, with annual boosters recommended. Children under the age of 8 years receiving the vaccine for the first time need to receive two doses one month apart. The flu vaccine is very effective, and prevents thousands of deaths yearly. Children need to be vaccinated to prevent them from becoming severely ill with influenza, but also because children are often the vector, transmitting the infection to older adults and grandparents. The vaccine should be given annually because the remarkable influenza organism often mutates and changes annually.

Measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine

Also known as MMR, this vaccine protects against measles (also known as rubeola, one of the most contagious organisms known), mumps (which can cause orchitis or infection of the testes and can lead to sterility), and rubella or “German Measles,” (typically a mild disease, but can have devastating effects on an unborn child). It is given in 2 doses. The first is administered at 12 to 15 months old; the second at age 4 to 6 years old. MMR vaccine is safe. False claims about its possible link to autism caused a decline in vaccination with MMR, with a resurgence of measles cases in recent years. Fortunately, excellent studies disproved the false claims, and immunization levels are again rising.

Meningococcal vaccines

This vaccination is designed to protect against meningococcal disease, which can lead to bacterial meningitis as well as other severe infections. The term “meningitis” refers to infection or inflammation of the meninges, a protective barrier covering the brain. Patients with meningitis infection often present with fever, stiff neck and severe headache. Currently, in the United States, there are two different types of meningococcal vaccines for children. The meningococcal conjugate vaccine protects against four types of meningococcal bacteria, and is administered around 11 to 12 years old with a booster around the age of 16. Meningococcal B vaccine (MenB) protects against a fifth type of meningococcal bacteria and is administered between ages 16 to 23.

Pneumococcal vaccine

Also known as PCV, this vaccination is designed to help protect against infections caused by streptococcus pneumoniae. These infections can be severe, and can cause pneumonia, blood and other tissue infections, as well as bacterial meningitis. The vaccination is typically administered at two, four and six months old, with the last booster being administered after 12 months of age. The initial series protects children during the first year of life; the booster carries this protection forward through childhood.

Polio vaccine

Championed by Dr. Jonas Salk, this vaccine is helping to rid the world of the dreaded disease of polio. Polio vaccine is still needed because pockets of the disease still exist in developing countries. The modern iteration of IPV is given in stages. The first vaccination is typically given around 2 months old, then again at 4 months, and at 6 to 18 months, with a final booster being administered between 4 to 6 years of age.

Rotavirus vaccine

This vaccine helps the body fight off a common virus that causes vomiting and diarrhea that is often severe enough to require hospitalization. It typically affects infants as well as very young children, with childcare centers being a common site of outbreaks. This vaccination doesn’t require an injection. Instead, children take an oral liquid at 2 months old, again at four months old, and the final dose is given around 6 months of age.

What If My Child Reacts To A Vaccination?

Vaccination reactions can occur in children, though they are relatively rare and usually mild. This might include things like soreness at the injection site, a minor localized rash, or perhaps a short-lived low-grade fever. These minor side effects are harmless compared to the danger posed by the diseases they help protect against. If your child reacts to vaccination after you bring them home, you can call your pediatrician for further advice on how to help them recover comfortably.

Are Breast-Fed Babies Immune To Certain Diseases?

Breastfed babies do indeed receive antibodies passed from their mothers in breast milk. While this helps the infant battle some infections, the immune benefits are short-lived. Vaccinating your child on schedule is the best possible way to help prevent some of the more common viral and bacterial infections they will encounter in childhood and into their adult life.