One of the most important things you can do for your child is protect them from vaccine-preventable illnesses.
Without vaccines, your child is at greater risk of serious illness or death from viruses and other diseases.
Because there are many vaccines to keep track of, it’s hard to know at what ages your child will need to see a health care provider for vaccines. Use this guide to help you understand the illnesses that routine pediatric vaccines protect against and navigate the vaccine schedule for your child.
Are Vaccines Safe?
The first thing parents want to know about vaccines is whether they are safe for their child. The answer is yes — these vaccines are safe for children.
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What’s a Normal Reaction to Vaccination?
Severe side effects from vaccines are very rare. In fact, the diseases your child could contract without vaccines pose a much greater health risk to your child than the vaccines themselves.
After your child gets a vaccination, they might experience the following:
- Redness and soreness: Placing a cool, damp cloth on the area where the shot was given will help reduce redness and/or soreness.
- Fainting: Fainting after a vaccine is more common among teenagers than younger children. Having the child sit or lie down when getting a shot and then for about 15 minutes after the shot can help prevent fainting.
What Illnesses Do Vaccines Protect Against?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) your child will need a number of vaccinations during their first years of life.
Here’s a list of the vaccines and the illnesses they prevent:
- DTaP is a vaccine that helps children under age 7 develop immunity to three deadly diseases caused by bacteria: diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (whooping cough). A similar vaccine called Tdap is used as a booster shot for these diseases and may be given to older children and adults.
- The polio or poliomyelitis vaccine protects against this disabling and life-threatening disease caused by the poliovirus. The virus spreads from person to person and can infect a person’s spinal cord, causing paralysis (when you can’t move parts of the body.) Medical providers in the U.S. use only the inactivated polio virus (IPV) vaccine, which is delivered through an injection (shot).
- The hepatitis B vaccine protects against liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). HBV is spread when body fluid from an infected person enters the body of someone who is not infected. This can happen through sexual contact, sharing needles, syringes, or other drug-injection equipment, or from mother to baby at birth. For some people, HBV can become a long-term, chronic infection that can lead to serious, even life-threatening health issues like cirrhosis or liver cancer. Risk for chronic infection is related to age at infection: About 90% of infants with hepatitis B go on to develop chronic infection, whereas less than 6% of people who get hepatitis B as adults become chronically infected.
- The hepatitis A vaccine protects against a highly contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus, which is passed mainly through contaminated food or water, or from close contact with a person who’s infected.
- The Hib vaccine protects against Haemophilus influenzae type b, a flu virus that causes many different kinds of infections. Hib bacteria can cause mild illness, such as ear infection or bronchitis, or can cause severe illness, such as a blood infection. Severe Hib infection requires treatment in a hospital and can sometimes result in death. Before the vaccine, Hib disease was the leading cause of bacterial meningitis among U.S. children under 5. Meningitis, an infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord, can lead to brain damage and hearing loss.
- The rotavirus vaccine protects against the rotavirus, a highly contagious illness that commonly causes severe, watery diarrhea and vomiting in infants and young children. Babies and young children with rotavirus may become dehydrated quickly and may need hospitalization and can even die.
- The MMR vaccine protects against measles, mumps, and rubella. Measles can cause pneumonia and lead to swelling of the brain, called encephalitis, which can cause seizures and brain damage. The mumps virus causes swelling in glands just below the ears, giving the appearance of chipmunk cheeks. Before the vaccine, mumps was the most common cause of both meningitis and acquired deafness in the United States. In boys and men, mumps can infect the testicles, which can lead to infertility. Rubella, also known as German measles, can cause a rash on the face, swelling of glands behind the ears, and in some cases, swelling of the small joints and low-grade fever. Most children who get rubella recover quickly with no lasting effects. But if a pregnant woman gets rubella, it can be devastating. If infected during the first trimester of pregnancy, there’s at least a 20% chance the baby will have a birth defect such as blindness or deafness, a heart defect, or intellectual disabilities.
- The chickenpox vaccine protects against this highly contagious disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). It causes an itchy, blister-like rash that appears first on the chest, back, and face, and then spreads over the entire body. Chickenpox used to be common in the United States, with an average of 4 million people getting chickenpox, up to 13,000 being hospitalized for it, and up to 150 dying of it each year. Since the chickenpox vaccine became available in 1995, more than 3.5 million cases of chickenpox, 9,000 hospitalizations, and 100 deaths are prevented each year in the U.S. The CDC recommends two doses of chickenpox vaccine for children, adolescents, and adults who have never had chickenpox and were never vaccinated.
- The COVID-19 vaccine is safe, effective, and available for children ages 5 and up. The CDC recommends that everyone ages 5 years and older get a COVID-19 vaccine to help protect against COVID-19. COVID-19 vaccines have not yet been approved for use in children under age 5, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently testing these vaccines for that age group. The FDA is expected to grant emergency use authorization for a COVID-19 vaccine for children younger than 5 in the near future.
- The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination protects against HPV, a common virus that can cause cancers later in life. Nearly 42 million people are currently infected with HPV in the U.S., and about 13 million people — including teens — are newly infected with HPV each year. These infections cause nearly 36,000 HPV-related cancers per year, including cancers of the throat and reproductive organs of both males and females. All pre-teens should get a two-shot series of HPV vaccine. A three-shot series is needed for those with weakened immune systems and those who start the series at age 15 or older.
- Meningococcal conjugate (MenACWY) and Serogroup B meningococcal (MenB) are two vaccinations that protect against the bacteria that cause meningococcal disease and infections of the brain and spinal cord lining. The vaccine also protects your child from long-term disabilities that often come with surviving meningococcal disease.
Pediatric Vaccine Schedule
The full list of vaccines your baby should receive within their lifetime may look intimidating at first glance. Rest assured that the vaccinations will be spread over many visits so your child will not receive all of their shots at the same time.
The CDC also offers tips on how to hold your child to make it easier and less stressful for you both while your provider gives the shots.
Newborns typically receive their first vaccine — the first dose of the Hepatitis B vaccine— in the newborn nursery within 24 hours of birth.
Over the next year, your pediatrician will schedule the following vaccines for your baby:
- First dose diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTaP).
- First dose polio (IPV).
- First dose haemophilus influenzae type B (HIB).
- First dose pneumococcal vaccine (PCV).
- First dose rotavirus.
- Second dose Hepatitis B.
- Third dose Hepatitis B.
- Second dose DTaP.
- Second dose IPV.
- Second dose HIB.
- Second dose PCV.
- Second dose rotavirus.
- Third dose DTaP.
- Third dose IPV.
- Third dose HIB.
- Third dose PCV.
- Third dose rotavirus.
- Flu vaccine.
- Fourth dose Hepatitis B.
- First dose Hepatitis A.
- Measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR).
- Chickenpox (varicella).
- Fourth dose DTaP.
4 to 6 years
Once your child enters their toddler years, they won’t need any vaccines except for a yearly flu shot. When they reach 4 to 6 years of age, they will be recommended to receive:
- Fifth dose DTaP.
- Fourth dose IPV.
- Second dose MMR.
- Second dose Varicella.
- COVID-19 vaccine at age 5 or 6 and booster 2 months later.
11 to 12 years
At this age, it’s recommended that your child receive:
- Hepatitis B.
- Hepatitis A.
- DTaP (which can be received between 14 and 16 years).
- Annual flu shot.
- Two-dose COVID-19 vaccine series and booster shot 5 months later.
- First dose of meningococcal conjugate (MenACWY).
- First dose of human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine (followed by second dose 6 to 12 months later).
13 to 18 years
At this age, the CDC recommends that your child receive:
- Annual flu shot.
- Second dose MenACWY at age 16.
- First dose serogroup B meningococcal (MenB) between 16 and 18.
- Second dose MenB 6 months after the first.
- Two-dose COVID-19 vaccine (Pfizer-BioNTech) and booster shot 5 months later.
- Any catch-up vaccines your child has missed.
- Any vaccines required for college or international travel.
Your child may need additional vaccines depending on their health. Your pediatrician or health care provider will advise you about any additional vaccines or doses your child may need, or about scheduling any missing vaccines within recommended timeframes.
Remember: If your child misses a shot, you don’t need to start over. Just go back to your child’s provider and they can help figure out the next shots your child should get.
Questions About Vaccines?
Talk to your pediatrician about any questions or concerns you have about your child’s vaccine schedule.
From nutrition to illnesses, from athletics to school, children will face many challenges growing up. Parents often will make important health care decisions for them. We hope to help guide both of you in that journey. UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh is a national leader in pediatric care, ranking consistently on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Children’s Hospitals Honor Roll. We provide expert treatment for pediatric diseases, along well-child visits, urgent care, and more. With locations across Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia, you can find world-class care close to home. We also work closely with UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, a national leader in care for newborns and their mothers. Our goal is to provide the best care for your children, from birth to adulthood and beyond. Visit our website to find a doctor near you.