12 Vaccines Recommended for Your Young Child

Healthy children are usually vaccinated according to a schedule that is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Vaccination prevents contagious diseases from causing infections and spreading.

A number of vaccinations are recommended for children and adolescents before age 18. Most settings where young people spend time in close proximity—schools, camps, sports teams, and universities—require participants to provide documentation of up-to-date vaccination.

Knowing what vaccines are recommended and the schedule at which your child should receive them is an important part of their health care.

Hepatitis B (Hep B)

Young girl getting an immunization

LWA / Dann Tardif / Getty Images

What it protects against: Hepatitis B is a viral infection that affects the liver. It is transmitted from person to person through sexual contact, blood (typically as a result of sharing needles), from mother to child during delivery, or through breastmilk. Hepatitis B can cause acute illness, liver failure, or cancer of the liver.

How the hep B vaccine is given: IM (intramuscularly, in the muscle) injection in three doses

Timing: The first dose is given at birth. The second is recommended approximately four weeks later, and the last dose is recommended approximately four months thereafter. According to the CDC guidelines, children should have all three hep B vaccine doses before 18 months of age.

Rotavirus

What it protects against: Rotavirus infection is caused by a virus that spreads from person to person through contaminated food or through direct physical contact. The infection causes severe watery diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, loss of appetite and dehydration. 

How the rotavirus vaccine is given: This vaccination is a liquid that is placed directly into a baby's mouth.

Timing: The Rotarix (RV1) brand of the vaccine is given in two doses at 2 and 4 months of age; the RotaTeq (RV5) brand is given in three doses at 2, 4 and 6 months. 

Because it is a highly contagious infection, even with vaccination, a child might still catch rotavirus. In fact, a person who has had rotavirus infection can catch it again. However, the vaccine is the most effective way to prevent this infection.

Diphteria, Tetanus, and Acellular Pertussis (DTaP)

What it protects against: The DTaP vaccination is a combination vaccine that protects against three different infections—diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis.

Diphtheria is a dangerous and highly contagious bacterial infection that can be spread from person to person through air droplets (sneezing or coughing) or by touching objects like toys or towels. Diphtheria causes a sore throat, fever, difficulty breathing, and swollen lymph nodes in the neck.

Tetanus is a life-threatening infection that painfully contracts muscles, locking them up in a contorted position. For example, it can cause lockjaw and impair the muscles that control breathing. The infection is caused by a bacterium that can enter the body through a deep cut that becomes contaminated. Because the bacteria is so prevalent in the environment (it lives in soil and rusty metal), a tetanus booster may be necessary after an injury.

Pertussis, often referred to as whooping cough, is a highly contagious bacterial infection that can spread from person to person through air droplets. The illness causes uncontrollable coughing fits that make it difficult to take a breath. The coughing spells are often followed by a whooping sound.

How the DTaP vaccine is given: This IM injection is delivered in five doses. Young children typically have the injection in the front of the thigh, while older children get it in the upper arm.

Timing: The first three injections are given at ages 2, 4, and 6 months. The fourth dose should be given between 15 and 18 months, and the final dose between 4 and 6 years of age.

Some combination vaccines that include DTaP also protect against Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib), and/or inactivated polio (IPV), and/or hepatitis B.

Haemophilus Influenza Type B (Hib)

What it protects against: The Haemophilus influenza infection is caused by Haemophilus influenza bacteria. Despite its name, it doesn't cause the flu. It is transmitted from person to person through air droplets. The infection can produce bacterial meningitis (an infection surrounding the brain), cellulitis (skin infection) and/or epiglottitis (an infected epiglottis that closes off the airway).

How the Hib vaccine is given: IM injection in either three or four doses, depending on the brand

Timing: Children have the first doses at age 2 months and 4 months. Some brands also require a dose at 6 months. In all cases, the final dose is delivered between 12 and 15 months.

Pneumococcal Conjugate

What it protects against: Pneumococcal infection, caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae, spreads by direct contact with saliva and can invade the body, causing infections such as pneumonia (lung infection), ear infections, meningitis, and sepsis (blood infection).

The CDC recommends two types of pneumococcal vaccinations, depending on a child's health: the PCV13 or the PPSV23.

How the pneumococcal conjugate vaccines are given: The PCV13 vaccination is given as an IM injection and it protects against 13 types of pneumococcal bacteria.

The PPSV23 vaccine, given IM or subcutaneously, is recommended for children over age 2 who are at a high risk of infection due to conditions such as immune system deficiency, or chronic heart or kidney disease.

Timing: PCV13 is recommended for all children in four doses: at age 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, and again between 12 to 15 months of age.

PCV23 is recommended in two doses: the first at least eight weeks after the PCV13 series is complete, and the second should be given five years later.

Inactivated Poliovirus

What it protects against: Poliovirus is highly contagious. It is spread by direct touch, respiratory droplets, and oral-fecal transmission (direct touch, food, and objects contaminated with the virus). Polio infection can cause upper respiratory symptoms. It may also cause poliomyelitis, which is weakness or paralysis of an arm and/or leg on one side of the body.

How the polio vaccine is given: IM or subcutaneous (directly under the skin) injection in the arm or leg; four doses

Timing: The first two doses of the polio vaccine are administered at ages 2 months and 4 months. Another is given between 6 months and 18 months, and the last between 4 and 6 years of age.

Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR)

What it protects against: The MMR vaccine is a combination vaccine that protects against measles, mumps, and rubella.

Measles is a highly contagious viral infection spread by direct contact and air droplets. Infection with measles causes an upper respiratory illness, rash, and spots inside the mouth. Rare complications like pneumonia and encephalitis (brain infection) can be deadly.

The mumps virus is spread by direct contact, saliva, and air droplets. Mumps infection causes fever, headache, fatigue, and swelling of the face and jaw. Mumps can also cause orchitis (an infection of the testicles), which can result in sterility.

The rubella infection is caused by a virus that spreads through direct contact or air droplets. It can cause a rash, flu-like symptoms, and swelling of the glands toward the back of the neck and head. Congenital rubella syndrome, which is passed on from a mother to a child, can cause birth defects and an increased risk of miscarriage.

How the MMR vaccine is given: Subcutaneous injection in two doses

Timing: The first dose is administered between ages 12 and 15 months. The second dose is given between ages 4 to 6 years.

Varicella

What it protects against: The varicella vaccine prevents chickenpox infection. Chickenpox is highly contagious and spread by direct contact and air droplets. It causes flu-like symptoms, a rash, and swollen glands. While rare, complications include pneumonia, nervous system involvement, and possible long term hearing loss. Adults are more likely than children to experience serious complications of the infection.

How the varicella vaccine is given: Subcutaneous injection in two doses

Timing: The first dose is recommended between ages 12 and 15 months, and a second is given between ages 4 and 6 years.

Hepatitis A

What it protects against: Hepatitis A is a liver infection that causes fever, diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, loss of appetite, darkened urine and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes). Hepatitis A is spread by direct contact, fecal-oral transmission, undercooked shellfish, and contaminated water. Usually, the infection lasts for several weeks and improves on its own, but it can cause severe dehydration in children or adults who are frail.

How the hep A vaccine is given: Two-dose series IM injection

Timing: The vaccine is given between 12 and 24 months of age. The two doses must be separated by six to 18 months and timed accordingly.

The hepatitis A vaccine is also available in a combination vaccine that includes the hepatitis B vaccine. It is an intramuscular injection that is given in three doses.

  • The first dose can be started at any time and can be given at birth when the hepatitis B vaccine is normally given.
  • The second dose is given one month after the first, and the last dose is given five months after the second.

Babies and children age 15 and under receive 0.5 ml/dose. Adults and teenagers over 15 years old should receive 1.0 ml/dose.

Influenza

What it protects against: The flu vaccine protects against the influenza virus. Influenza is highly contagious and spreads in crowded environments like schools and office workspaces. Often, people will bring the virus home and infect family members.

Flu symptoms in children include fevers, tiredness, cough, aching, and headaches. The infection can last for days or even weeks. Sometimes the flu can cause severe complications in children, such as dehydration, a febrile seizure, meningitis, or sepsis.

How the flu vaccine is given: IM or subcutaneously injection, depending on the formulation

Timing: The CDC recommends yearly flu vaccines for healthy children. Children between 6 months and 8 years old can have one or two doses per year (separated by at least four weeks). 

Meningococcal

What it protects against: This vaccine protects against strains of Neisseria meningitides bacterium to prevent bacterial meningitis.

Teenagers and young adults who will share close living quarters, such as dorms, tents, or cabins, are at increased risk. Bacterial meningitis can be serious, potentially causing lethargy, seizures, long term neurological problems, and even death.

How the meningococcal vaccine is given: The vaccine is given IM in the arm or thigh muscles.

Timing: This is given IM at age 11 or 12 years, with a booster at age 16. Teenagers who did not receive a first dose can get it between ages 13 and 18.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

What it protects against: This vaccine protects against human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted virus that increases the risk of cervical cancer.

How the HPV vaccine is given: IM injection in two or three doses, depending on age at first dose and which of the different HPV vaccines is given. Experts recommend that the vaccine be given to boys and girls because, while boys have a very small risk of becoming infected or developing cancer as a result of the infection, males can spread the virus to females.

Timing: According to the CDC, children who receive the first dose before age 15 can get a total of two doses; children who receive the first dose at or after age 15 should receive a total of three doses.

A Word From Verywell

Many of the infections that can be prevented by vaccines can cause lifelong disability or even death. And some infections, such as polio and tetanus, cannot be treated once you become infected. If your child is not being vaccinated due to vaccine costs and/or a lack of health insurance, financial assistance may be available to you.

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