Children need vaccines throughout their childhood to prepare their immune systems for any germs they encounter. Vaccines help the body recognize pathogens quickly and prevent serious infections from developing.
Health organizations recommend a number of vaccines for children at different ages, starting shortly after they are born and finishing when they are 18 years old. However, there are several vaccines a healthcare professional may administer throughout a person’s life that boost the vaccines they received as a child.
Healthcare professionals will usually let parents or caregivers know when a child is due for a vaccine. Anyone uncertain about the vaccination process, or who wants to know more, should contact their doctor.
This article will focus on the importance of vaccines and the recommended ages for receiving them.
Vaccines are a form of preventive medicine that help build up a person’s immune system against certain infectious diseases. The vaccine exposes the person to a killed or weakened form of the active disease to stimulate an immune response.
When a person encounters a live form of a virus they have been vaccinated against — for example, influenza — the body will quickly recognize the virus and produce antibodies to eliminate it. This immune response ensures the virus is dealt with quickly before it fully infects the body and makes someone very sick.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), people who receive a vaccine typically remain protected against the disease for many years. Some vaccines may require boosters from time to time, but others provide life-long protection.
Part of the reason vaccines are so effective is that once the body has exposure to an infection-causing germ, it remembers how to create the relevant antibodies for its next encounter.
Additionally, vaccines help protect not only the individual but also the people they interact with. Vulnerable people with some underlying health conditions cannot receive vaccines. When otherwise healthy people receive vaccines it increases herd immunity, which helps prevent the spread of disease.
The WHO note that in communities with high herd immunity, those who are most vulnerable and have not received a vaccine have a lower risk of contracting infectious diseases.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend vaccinations against 16 potentially harmful diseases.
Ensuring children are vaccinated is the best way to prevent them from contracting a serious infection.
Healthcare professionals give children different vaccines depending on their age. Some vaccines require multiple doses, while others do not.
Shortly after babies are born and for several months after, they may receive several vaccines due to the fragility of their immune system.
The CDC note that hepatitis B vaccinations are important for infants and children as they are more likely than adults to develop a long-term, incurable form of hepatitis B. Hepatitis B is a virus that can cause liver damage.
Between 1–2 months, the CDC recommend six vaccines. The infant will receive these as combined injections over a specific period of time.
This is the second of three doses for hepatitis B.
Diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTaP)
The IPV vaccine protects against polio. Polio can cause serious complications, including paralysis.
Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)
The Hib vaccine protects against Haemophilus influenzae type b infections. Serious Hib infections may lead to life threatening infections, meningitis, and intellectual disability.
As a baby grows, it is important they receive further vaccines to help strengthen their immunity against certain diseases.
At 4 months, the CDC recommend the following vaccines:
- hepatitis B
At 6 months, the CDC recommend the following vaccines:
Some vaccines may require fewer doses, depending on the brand or the timing of each vaccine.
The flu vaccine protects against influenza. The CDC recommend yearly influenza shots starting at 6 months. The child will get two shots spaced 4 weeks apart if they are 8 years old or younger at the time of their first flu vaccine. After this, the recommended dose is one shot, yearly.
Between 12 and 23 months, the CDC recommend these vaccines:
- hepatitis B (if a child has not received three doses)
Measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR)
The varicella vaccine helps protect against chickenpox. Complications from the infection can be serious and may include swelling on the brain and lung infections.
Hepatitis A (hep A)
A hep A vaccine helps protect against hepatitis A. Complications from this infection may include liver failure, joint pain, and disorders of the blood, kidney, and pancreas.
At these ages, the CDC recommend children receive the following vaccines:
Some of these vaccinations are required for children to enroll in school. The school may ask for a vaccination certificate during the enrollment process.
The CDC recommend four vaccines for preteens, including:
The CDC recommend all preteens get a MenACWY vaccine. This helps protect against meningococcal disease. The disease can be lethal, and 1 in 5 survivors may have long-term disabilities such as limb loss, deafness, or brain damage.
Human papillomavirus (HPV)
The CDC recommend the first dose of the vaccine for children who are between 11–12 years old, with later doses according to the recommended vaccine schedule.
As a child gets older, they are at risk of contracting different diseases.
Meningococcal B vaccine (MenB)
For children aged between 16–18 years, the CDC recommend vaccines for serogroup B meningococcus (meningitis). Doctors deliver the vaccine in multiple doses.
Doctors will work with a child and their parents to discuss the vaccine schedule. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also offer more general information about vaccines. This information includes who should get a vaccine and why, and where to get a vaccine.
Global and governmental health organizations recommend a number of vaccines for children depending on their age and individual differences.
The general recommendations follow a schedule from birth to 18 years, but this could change depending on the child’s circumstances. If parents want to know more about their child’s vaccine schedule, they can discuss this with a doctor.