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Making Sense of Immunizations for Kids and Adults

Deborah Elbaum, M.D.
Oct. 30, 2007

Understanding adult and child vaccination and immunization recommendations.

Keeping all those vaccines straight

When my baby was born six years after his brother, I was amazed at all of the changes in the baby-related world, from strollers to the pediatrician's office. In the past few decades, by recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children are being vaccinated against an increasing number of diseases. Keeping the vaccines straight can be challenging. In addition, vaccine schedules can differ among pediatricians as well as among children, depending on a child's medical condition and other circumstances. Remember to always check with your own doctor for the immunizations that are right for you and your children. The information in this article should not be used to replace or substitute the medical advice from your personal physician.

The following is a general overview of the immunizations given at specific well-child visits. Remember to keep a record of your child's shots!

General overview of immunization schedule

  • Hepatitis B: birth, 2 months, 15-18 months
  • DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis): 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15-18 months, 4-6 years
  • Polio: 2 months, 4 months, 15-18 months, 4-6 years
  • Hib: 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15-18 months
  • Pneumococcal: 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15-18 months
  • Rotavirus: 2 months, 4 months, 6 months
  • MMR (measles, mumps, rubella): 1 year, 4-6 years
  • Varicella: 1 year, 4-6 years
  • Hepatitis A: (1 year, 15-18 months)
  • TDaP (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis): 11-12 years
  • Meningococcal: 11-12 years
  • HPV (for girls): 11-12 years

The most common side effects are minor and include redness or swelling at the injection site, fever and rash.

More information about newer CDC and AAP recommendations

  • The HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine is given in three doses to girls ages 11-12, before they become sexually active. The vaccine prevents infection from certain types of HPV, which is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S. It can cause both cervical cancer and genital warts. Older girls who are already sexually active can also get some benefit from the vaccine.
  • To protect against acute gastroenteritis, infants now receive a new rotavirus vaccine (an older rotavirus vaccine was discontinued).
  • Children now receive two doses of the Hepatitis A vaccine to protect against a type of infection of the liver.
  • Children ages 4-6 now receive a second dose of the varicella vaccine so that they have an even lower chance of getting the chicken pox.
  • The meningococcal vaccine provides protection against life-threatening infections of the bloodstream and/or the coverings of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis). Adolescents ages 11-18 should receive a one-time dose, as should college students living in dorms who have not previously been vaccinated. In October 2007, this vaccine was approved by the FDA for children down to age 2.

Reassuring information

  • Vaccines are very effective against disease, giving protection in 85-99% of cases.
  • A baby's immune system is developed enough to handle the many immunizations it receives. As soon as they are born, babies encounter bacteria and viruses in the environment all around them.
  • Vaccines made from killed bacteria or viruses cannot give you a disease. Vaccines like the MMR and varicella, however, that instead are made from weakened live viruses, can possibly cause a very mild form of the disease, but it is almost always much less serious than the disease itself.
  • Studies have been done to see if there is a link between vaccines with thimerosal (a mercury preservative) and autism. Today, none of the routine vaccines for infants (except for some flu vaccines) contain thimerosal. In 2004, an Institute of Medicine report concluded that there was no relationship between the MMR vaccine and autism, or thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism.

Flu season is starting

It's time to talk with your doctor about getting vaccinated! Available as a shot or nasal spray; the flu vaccine reduces the chance of getting the disease by up to 80%. The following is the CDC's current guide as to who should be vaccinated yearly.

  • All children from 6 months up to 5 years old, and their close contacts and caregivers
  • Adults 50 and older, and their close contacts and caregivers
  • People living in long-term care facilities
  • Health care providers
  • Pregnant women
  • People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions
  • Most doctors agree that people with egg allergy should NOT get the flu vaccine

Older adults need vaccines, too

Adults become more susceptible to getting certain infections as they get older. The following vaccines are recommended by the CDC. Others may also be recommended depending on certain conditions, medical or other factors determined by a physician.

  • Influenza: yearly for adults over 50
  • Herpes zoster (shingles): a single dose for adults over 60
  • Pneumococcal: a single dose for adults over 65

Communicate with your health care provider

It's never easy to see your child get shots, even if you know they are necessary for his or her well-being. Be sure to ask your pediatrician about any questions you have and discuss your concerns. You should also tell your doctor about any allergies your child has, including any past allergic reactions to shots. Your doctor will make recommendations based on your child's individual circumstances. As partners in your child's development, you share the same goal: to keep your child as healthy as possible.

For more information

American Academy of Pediatrics
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Network for Immunization Information
CDC Children's Program

List of vaccines in this article

  • Hepatitis
  • DTaP
  • Polio
  • Hib
  • Pneumococcal
  • Rotavirus
  • MMR
  • Varicella
  • Hepatitis A
  • TDaP
  • Meningococcal
  • HPV (human papillomavirus)

Deborah Elbaum is a mother of three children, one with food allergies. She leads an educational support group for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America/New England Chapter.

* This article is for general informational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be providing medical advice and is not a substitute for such advice. The reader should always consult a health care provider concerning any medical condition or treatment plan.?? Neither Care.com nor the author assumes any responsibility or liability with respect to use of any information contained herein.

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