Top 20 Vaccines You Should Know About

Why They Are Recommended by the CDC

Doctor applying bandaid to child's arm after vaccination

Steve Debenport / iStock / Getty Images

Vaccines are among the best preventive measures a parent can take to protect an infant, child, or teen from infectious diseases. Certain vaccines can prevent disease in adults as well.

Vaccines not only help people avoid serious illness and even death, but it also reduces the risk of transmission to others. In some cases, vaccines have entirely eliminated once-dreaded diseases.

It is important that everybody gets vaccinated as per the recommended vaccine schedule—not only for their own health but for the health of others.

Hepatitis B Vaccine

Hepatitis B is a viral disease that causes liver inflammation and damage. Over time, the chronic infection can cause cirrhosis, liver failure, and liver cancer. The hepatitis B virus (HBV) is transmitted via blood or other body fluids.

In the United States, 1.25 million people are chronically infected with HBV, of whom 36% are infected during childhood. Up to 25% of people infected as infants die as a result of liver disease as adults, which is why it is important to prevent infection by vaccinating at birth.

There are three HBV vaccines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each of which is delivered by intramuscular injection (IM) into a large muscle.

Trade Name Doses Age Route
Engerix-B 3 12 months to 18 years IM
Heplisav-B 2 18 years and over IM
Recombivax HB 3 Birth to 19 years IM

The recommended timing of vaccine doses varies by the vaccine:

  • Engerix and Recombivax: These vaccines used for primary vaccination are given at birth, 1, and 6 months.
  • Heplisav-B: This newer vaccine can be used in place of the second and third doses of Engerix or Recombivax. The first dose is given 1 month after Engerix or Recombivax, followed by a second dose 6 months later.

Diphtheria, Tetanus, Acellular Pertussis (DTaP)

The DTaP vaccine is a combination vaccine that protects against three different bacterial diseases:

  • Pertussis is a highly contagious bacteria that causes respiratory illness lasting two or more weeks, typically with a cough that sounds like a whoop. Pertussis in infants can lead to pneumonia, seizures, brain damage, and death.
  • Diphtheria is a bacteria that causes respiratory symptoms accompanied by fever. In some children, the infection can lead to organ damage due to toxins produced by the bacteria.
  • Tetanus, also known as lockjaw, causes muscular contractions that it make difficult to open the mouth, swallow, and breathe. Even today, one of every 10 people with tetanus will die.

There are two DTaP vaccines recommended for use by the CDC.

Trade Name Doses Age Route
Daptacel 5 6 months to 6 years IM
Infanrix 5 6 months to 6 years  IM

DTaP vaccines are given as five-dose series at 2 months, 4 months, and 6 months, between 15 and 18 months, and between 4 and 6 years of age.

Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Acellular Pertussis (Tdap)

The Tdap vaccine is a booster vaccine against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis used after the DTaP series is completed. Adolescents receive the first dose between 11 and 12 years and Td boosters (tetanus and diphtheria but not pertussis) every 10 years thereafter.

During adulthood, one of the Td doses should be substituted with Tdap to ensure protection against pertussis in later years.

There are two Tdap vaccines recommended for use by the CDC.

Trade Name Doses Age Route
Adacel 1 10 to 64 years IM
Boosterix 1 10 years and over IM

Women should receive Tdap with every pregnancy, typically during the third trimester, to prevent infecting their babies after birth.

Haemophilus influenzae Type B (Hib)

The Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) vaccine protects against Haemophilus influenzae type b, a bacteria that can cause pneumonia, meningitis (inflammation of the protective membrane surrounding the brain and spinal cord), and epiglottitis (inflammation of the cartilage flap covering the windpipe).

There are three Hib vaccines recommended for use by the CDC.

Trade Name Doses Age Route
ActHIB 4 2 months to 5 years IM
Hiberix 4 6 weeks to 4 years IM
PedvaxHIB 3 2 to 71 months IM

Hib vaccination involves either three or four doses delivered as follows:

  • ActHIB: Given at 2, 4, 6, and 12 to 15 months of age
  • Hiberix: Given at 2, 4, 6, and 12 to 15 months of age
  • PedvaxHIB: Given at 2, 5, and 12 to 15 months of age

Pneumococcal Vaccine

Pneumococcal vaccines protect against Streptococcus pneumoniae, a bacteria that causes pneumonia, meningitis, and bacteremia (bacterial infection of the bloodstream). 

There are two pneumococcal vaccines recommended for use by the CDC:

  • Prevnar (PCV13), delivered by intramuscular injection, protects against 13 types of S. pneumoniae.
  • Pneumovax (PPSV23), delivered by subcutaneous (SC) injection under the skin, protects against 23 types of S. pneumoniae and is used in children with immunodeficiency and other health conditions that place them at high risk of complications.
Trad Name Doses Age Route
Pneumovax 2 2 years and over IM
Prevnar 4 6 weeks and over SC

Pneumococcal vaccination involves either one or two series as follows:

  • Prevnar: Recommended for all children, the vaccine is typically delivered at 2, 4, 6, and 12 to 15 months of age.
  • Pneumovax: Recommended for children at risk of severe complications, the vaccine delivered at least 8 weeks after the Prevnar series is complete, with the second dose given 5 years later.

A single dose of Prevnar or Pneumovax is recommended for adults aged 65 and older to provide sustained immunity from S. pneumonaie.

Inactivated Poliovirus

Polio is a rare viral infection passed through contaminated water and food, as well as direct contact with an infected person. The vast majority of infected people will experience no symptoms. Less than 2% of people will develop poliomyelitis (an infection of the central nervous system that can lead to paralysis).

There is only one polio vaccine recommended for use in the United States that employs an inactivated (dead) virus. The other, a live oral vaccine, was discontinued in 2000 due to the low risk of vaccine-induced poliomyelitis.

Trade Name Doses Age Route
Ipol 4 6 weeks and over IM or SC

The four-dose series is typically given at 2 months, 4 months, between 6 and 18 months, and between 4 and 6 years of age.

Rotavirus Vaccine

Rotavirus is a viral infection that can cause severe gastroenteritis (stomach flu) in infants and children, leading the dehydration and, on rare occasions, death.

Rotavirus is the most common cause of childhood diarrhea worldwide with between two and three million cases in the United States each year. Of these, 60,000 will require hospitalizations, and between 20 and 60 will die.

There are two rotavirus vaccines, each of which are delivered orally (by mouth).

Brand Name Doses Age Route
Rotarix 2 6 to 24 weeks Oral
Rotarteq 3 6 to 32 weeks Oral

The timing of vaccination varies by the vaccine type:

  • RotaTeq: Given at 2, 4, and 6 months of age
  • Rotarix: Given at 2 and 4 months of age

Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR)

The MMR vaccine is a combined vaccine that provides protection against three different diseases:

  • Measles is a viral disease spread by respiratory droplets that causes a widespread rash and can lead to encephalopathy (brain damage).
  • Mumps is a viral disease that causes the painful inflammation of the salivary glands and can also affect the pancreas, testicles, and brain.
  • Rubella (German measles) is a viral infection affecting the lymph nodes, skin, and joints. It can cause severe birth defects in babies when transmitted during pregnancy.

There is one MMR vaccine approved for use in the United States.

Trade Name Doses Age Route
M-M-R 2 2 12 months and over SC

The MMR vaccine is given between 12 and 15 months of age and then again at between 4 and 6 years of age.

Anti-vaccine proponents often claim that the MMR vaccine is dangerous, suggesting that it can cause autism and other adverse events. The claim was based on a discredited study by British physician Andrew Wakefield who has since been barred from practicing medicine in the United Kingdom.

Varicella Vaccine

Varicella-zoster virus (VZV) causes chickenpox. The viral disease is highly contagious, causing an itchy, blister-like rash on the skin. Most who are hospitalized are between 1 and 4 years of age, which is why childhood vaccination is important. In some people, varicella can cause pneumonia, often severe.

There is one varicella vaccine approved for use in the United States.

Trade Name Doses Age Route
Varivax 2 12 months and over SC

The two-dose series is given between 12 to 15 months of age and then again at between 4 and 6 years of age.

Hepatitis A Vaccine

Hepatitis A is a viral disease that causes liver inflammation and prolonged illness. It is associated with poor hygiene and is typically transmitted by the oral-fecal route. Though rarely fatal, hepatitis A can cause epidemics, which are a major threat to public health, safety, and productivity.

There are two hepatitis A vaccines recommended by the CDC.

Trade Name Doses Age Route
Havrix 2 12 months to 18 years IM
Vaqta 2 12 months to 18 years IM

The two-dose series is typically is given at 12 to 16 months of age followed by a second dose at 6 to 18 months later.

Influenza Vaccine

The influenza vaccine protects against seasonal flu. For most, seasonal flu is nothing more than a nuisance, causing short-term illness and disability. However, for some, flu can kill. Those at high risk of complications are babies, older adults, and people with compromised immune systems.

Because the virus mutates quickly, annual vaccination is needed to avoid infection. While most flu vaccines are given by injection, there is one that is delivered intranasally (by nasal spray) and another that can be administered with a jet injector.

Two of the flu vaccines are specified for use in older adults only, who tend to a less robust immune response to traditional flu vaccines.

Annual flu vaccination is recommended for everyone 6 months of age and older. There are nine different flu vaccines approved for use in the United States.

Trade Name Doses Age Route
Afluria 1-2 5 years and over IM or jet injector
Fluad 1 65 years and over IM
Fluarix 1-2 6 months and over IM
Flublok 1 18 years and over IM
Flucelvax 1-2 4 years and over IM
FluLaval 1-2 6 months and over IM
FluMist 1-2 2 years to 49 years Nasal spray
Fluzone 1-2 6 months and over IM
Fluzone High-Dose 1 65 and over IM

Children 6 months to 8 years who have never been vaccinated should get two doses, with each dose separated by at least four weeks. Everyone else needs only one dose.

Meningococcal Vaccine

Meningococcal vaccines protect against meningococcal disease caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitides. Infection with N. meningitides, spread by saliva and respiratory droplets, can lead to meningitis, bacteremia, and septicemia.

Some meningococcal vaccines protect against common forms of the bacteria, namely serogroups A, C, W, and Y. Others protect against serogroup B and are used in people 10 and older who have immunodeficiency (or during meningitis outbreaks that occasionally occur on college campuses).

There are five meningococcal vaccines approved for use in the United States.

Trade Name Doses Age Route Serogroups
Bexsero 2 10 to 25 years IM B
Menactra 2 9 months to 55 years IM A, C, W, Y
MedQuadfi 1 2 years and over IM A, C, W, Y
Menveo 2 2 months to 55 years IM A, C, W, Y
Trumenba 2-3 10 to 25 years IM B

The timing of doses vary by the vaccine type:

  • Menactra and Menveo: These vaccines are given at 11 to 12 years with a booster shot at 16. Two doses may be given to young children with primary immunodeficiency, with the first dose delivered at age two and the second delivered two months later.
  • MenQuadfi is a newer vaccine given as a single dose to children 2 years and older. It can also be used as a booster shot in people 15 and older who are at continued risk of meningococcal disease.
  • Bexsero and Trumenba are used in people 16 to 23 who are at increased risk of meningococcal disease. Bexsero is given in two doses separated by 1 month, while Trumenba is given in two doses dose separated by 6 months. During a meningitis outbreak, three doses of Trumenba are recommended.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a group of viruses, some of which cause genital warts and others of which can lead to cervical cancer, anal cancer, and other types of cancer.

Because the HPV types associated with cancer are sexually transmitted, HPV vaccination is recommended for girls and boys between the ages of 11 and 12 years before most kids are sexually active. The vaccine can be used in children as young as 9 who may be at risk of exposure.

The HPV vaccine can also be used in people 15 to 26 who have not been vaccinated or have not completed their vaccination series.

There is only one HPV vaccine approved for use in the United States.

Trade Name Doses Age Route
Gardasil-9 2-3 9 to 45 years IM

Gardasil-9 is given in two or three doses based on the person's age:

  • Under 15 years: Two doses separated by 6 to 12 months
  • 15 to 26 years: Three doses, with the first dose followed by a second dose 1 to 2 months later and a third dose 6 months later

Although HPV vaccination is not recommended after the age of 26 (as most people will have already been infected by then), the vaccine can be given to people 27 to 45 based on individual circumstances after a discussion with a doctor.

Shingles Vaccine

The herpes zoster virus (HZV) vaccine protects against shingles, a painful condition caused by the reactivation of the chickenpox virus later in life. In addition to causing blistering lesions along distinct dermatomes (nerves strings) of the body, shingles can lead to severe complications such as chronic post-herpetic pain and vision loss.

The HZV vaccine is given to adults 50 and older who are at an inherently high risk of shingles. There is only one shingles vaccine available in the United States.

Trade Name Doses Age Route
Shingrix 2 50 years and over IM

Shingrix is given in two doses, with the first shot followed by a second shot two to six months later.

An earlier and less effective shingles vaccine, called Zostavax, was discontinued in November 2020. Even if you're previously received Zostavax to prevent shingles, you should still get the two-dose series of Shingrix.

COVID-19

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a respiratory infection that became a pandemic in 2020. Symptoms of COVID-19 are variable, ranging from mild flu-like symptoms and the loss of taste or smell to pneumonia, respiratory failure, shock, and death. It is still not entirely clear why some people develop severe symptoms and others don't.

In 2020 and 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted emergency use authorization (EUA) to four COVID-19 vaccines to battle the pandemic.

Trade Name Doses Age Route
Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 2 16 years and over IM
Moderna COVID-19 2 18 years and over IM
Janssen/Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 1 18 years and over IM

The two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine are given 21 days apart, while the two doses of the Moderna are given 28 days apart. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine only requires one shot.

Clinical trials are underway to test the safety and efficacy of the vaccines on children, adolescents, and teens. Although many presume that ongoing vaccination will be needed to sustain immunity, this has not yet been established.

Rabies Vaccine

Rabies is a serious viral illness transmitted by the saliva of infected animals. It can take weeks or months for symptoms to appear, but once they do, rabies almost always leads to death.

Rabies is rare in the United States and other parts of the developed world. The greatest number of cases are seen in India, China, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Even so, people in the United States who live in areas rich in wildlife are routinely vaccinated as a precaution (as are veterinarians, animal handlers, and travelers to endemic regions). Similarly, people who are bitten by animals, including domestic ones, are routinely given a rabies shot as a precaution.

Bats are the most common source of rabies in the United States, although raccoons, foxes, and skunks can also be carriers.

There are two rabies vaccines available for use in the United States.

Trade Name Doses Age Route
Imovax 3-5 All ages IM
RabAvert 3-5 All ages IM

The recommended dosage varies by whether the vaccine is used to prevent rabies (pre-exposure prophylaxis) or avert infection (post-exposure prophylaxis):

  • Pre-exposure: Three doses are administered, with the first dose followed by a second dose 7 days later and a third dose 21 or 28 days later.
  • Post-exposure: Four doses are administered, with the first dose followed by additional doses on days 3, 7, and 14. Immunocompromised people should get a fifth dose 28 days later.

People at continued high risk of rabies should be tested every 6 months to two years and given a booster shot.

Cholera Vaccine

Cholera is a gastrointestinal illness caused by the Vibrio cholera bacteria. Cholera causes watery diarrhea that can run the gamut from mild to life-threatening. The infection is transmitted through contaminated water in areas with poor sanitation.

Cholera is rare in the United States and not a disease for which American residents are routinely vaccinated. Rather, the vaccine is used for people traveling to (or living in) tropical areas where the disease is endemic. Many countries will require proof of vaccination before you are allowed to enter.

There is one cholera vaccine that is given as a single dose at least 10 days before travel to an endemic region.

Trade Name Doses Age Route
Vaxchora 1 18 to 64 years Oral

As a live vaccine, Vaxchora should not be used in immunodeficient people in whom the bacteria may revert to its virulent state and cause disease. This includes people with HIV, organ transplant recipients, people undergoing chemotherapy, and adults 65 and over.

Japanese Encephalitis Virus (JEV)

Japanese encephalitis virus (JEV) is a mosquito-borne virus found mainly in rural and agricultural areas of Asia and the West Pacific.

Most JEV infections are mild but, in some people, the infection can turn serious and cause brain inflammation, seizures, and even death. It is also thought that infection with JEV during pregnancy can harm the unborn baby.

JEV vaccination is indicated prior to travel to an endemic region. There is one vaccine available.

Trade Name Doses Age Route
Ixiaro 2 2 months and over IM

Ixiaro is given as a two-dose series, with the doses spaced 28 days apart. Adults 18 to 65 years can get the second dose as early as 7 days after the first. The last dose should be completed a least one week prior to travel.

Yellow Fever Vaccine

Yellow fever is another mosquito-borne viral disease prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa and South America. Infection with yellow fever can cause fever, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes).

A small percentage of people infected with yellow fever will experience severe toxemia (blood poisoning) involving the liver, kidney, heart, or other organs. In severe cases, death will occur within 7 to 10 days of the development of toxemia.

Yellow fever vaccination is indicated for adults traveling to (or relocating to) endemic regions. There is one yellow fever vaccine given as a single dose at least 10 days before travel.

Trade Name Doses Age Route
YF-Vax 1 9 months and over SC

The yellow fever vaccine may also need to be avoided in people with compromised immune systems. Speak with your doctor who can issue a written exemption if you are immunocompromised and have to travel to an endemic region.

Typhoid Vaccine

Typhoid fever is a bacterial infection called Salmonella typhi. Symptoms include high fever, weakness, fatigue, headache, loss of appetite, stomach pain, and occasionally a rash. The bacteria is transmitted via contaminated food and water.

Typhoid is prevalent in parts of the world with poor sanitation, including parts of Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, Central America, South America, and the Middle East.

There are two typhoid vaccines available for use, both of which are administered before travel to an endemic region.

Trade Name Doses Age Route
Typhim Vi 1 2 years and over IM
Vivotif 4 6 years and over Oral (capsules)

The recommended dose varies by the vaccine type:

  • Typhim Vi: The injected vaccine is given as a single dose at least two weeks before departure.
  • Vivotif: The oral vaccine is given in four doses, with each dose separated by two days. The course should be completed at least a week before departure.

Before traveling abroad, check the CDC traveler advisory website for warnings and vaccine recommendations for your destination.

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