The 10 Childhood Vaccinations All Parents Need to Know About

Keep your family and those around you safe by learning about the efficacy of necessary vaccines. 

Medically reviewed in August 2019

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Keeping track of your little one’s vaccinations can seem daunting: Knowing which vaccine is for what, and remembering they need when, is enough to confuse anyone. Keep in mind, though, that the diseases vaccines protect against, like whooping cough and even polio, still exist and could threaten your child’s health.

“Vaccinations have reduced the number of infections from vaccine-preventable diseases by more than 90 percent,” adds Dina Gottesman, MD, a pediatrician with StoneSprings Hospital Center in Dulles, Virginia.

Click through to view our vaccine guide and talk to your doctor about any concerns you might have.

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Hepatitis A and B

Why vaccinate: Both hepatitis A and hepatitis B are liver diseases, but they are caused by different viruses. Hepatitis A is an acute infection that can last from a few weeks to a few months. Hepatitis B can cause a lifetime of serious and sometimes fatal conditions like cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver failure.

When to vaccinate: Starting at age 12 months, your child should receive the hepatitis A vaccine in two doses, six months apart. The first dose of the hepatitis B vaccine is given before your newborn is discharged from the hospital. After that, they should get two more doses by the time they are 18 months old.

Risks: Most babies don’t have reactions to either of these vaccines.

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Why vaccinate: Rotavirus diarrhea usually occurs in babies and young children. In some cases, it can cause dehydration, vomiting and/or a fever.

When to vaccinate: The first dose should be given no later than 15 weeks. Doctors recommend the doses occur at 2 months, 4 months and six months.

Risks: Most babies won’t experience any side effects. But it’s important to note that the vaccine does not prevent diarrhea caused by other germs. In rare cases, serious side effects such as intussusception and allergic reactions may occur. Babies with a weakened immune system, or rare conditions like severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) or who have had intussusception should not get the vaccine. 

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Diphtheria, Tetanus and Pertussis (DTaP)

Why vaccinate: All three diseases are triggered by bacteria. Diphtheria, a dense, gray coating in the nose, throat or airway, causes breathing problems, paralysis or heart failure. Tetanus causes lockjaw and/or muscle spasms. Pertussis causes convulsive coughs that can last for months.

When to vaccinate: Kids need 5 doses, starting when they’re 2 months and again at 4 months, 6 months, 15 to 18 months and 4 to 6 years old. Older kids are not eligible for DTaP; instead, kids age 11 and up can receive the Tdap vaccine. Moms-to-be should get Tdap during each pregnancy to help newborns fend off possible infection.

Risks: Contracting any of the diseases is much worse than getting the vaccine.

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Haemophilus Influenzae Type B (Hib)

Why vaccinate: The bacterium Hib may cause everything from mild ear or skin infections to serious conditions like meningitis or pneumonia. It can be deadly or, in some cases, cause lifelong disabilities.

When to vaccinate: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the Hib vaccine for all kids ages 5 and younger. Ideally, infants will receive doses at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months and between 12 and 15 months.

Risks: Kids who’ve experienced a severe allergic reaction to one dose of Hib should not get another. And kids who are really sick should wait until they are better before getting the shot. 

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Pneumococcal Disease

Why vaccinate: Pneumococcal disease may cause meningitis, pneumonia and painful ear infections.

When to vaccinate: Children should get four doses of the PCV13 vaccine, spanning from ages 2 months to 15 months. If your child has a high risk of the disease, they should also get the PPSV23 vaccine starting at age 2.

Risks: PCV13 does not cause serious reactions. Some children may experience tenderness or swelling at the injection site or drowsiness, loss of appetite and a fever.

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Why vaccinate: The poliovirus, usually found in the throat and intestines, may cause flu-like symptoms, a stiff neck and/or pain in the limbs. In rare cases, it can cause paralysis.

When to vaccinate: Children should get four doses of the inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) at 2 months, 4 months, 6 to 18 months, and 4 to 6 years of age.

Risks: Your child should not get the vaccine if they are allergic to any part of the IPV. Like other vaccines, if your child is moderately or extremely sick, they should wait to get vaccinated until they’re feeling better.  

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Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR)

Why vaccinate: Measles may cause a rash or cold-like symptoms, and could trigger an ear infection, pneumonia or seizures. Mumps may cause muscle pain and swollen glands, and could lead to meningitis or even deafness. Rubella may cause a rash or even arthritis.

When to vaccinate: Children should get two doses of the MMR vaccine, starting at age 12 to 15 months and again when they’re 4 to 6 years old. If you are traveling abroad and your baby is under one year old, they may get the vaccine, but it will not count as part of their routine vaccination.

Risks: According to experts, it’s much safer to get the vaccine than to risk getting any of these diseases.

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Why vaccinate: Also known as chickenpox, varicella is a highly contagious disease that causes an itchy, uncomfortable blister-like rash on the skin. “Some people with active chickenpox are more susceptible to superinfection with bacteria, which can cause severe infections and even death,” adds Dr. Gottesman.

When to vaccinate: Children should get the two-dose vaccine at 12 to 15 months and again at 4 to 6 years. There’s also a combination vaccine called MMRV, which contains both the MMR and chickenpox vaccines. If your child received the MMRV vaccine, they do not need to get the varicella vaccine.

Risks: Most children do not experience any problems with this vaccine—just soreness or swelling. 

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Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

Why vaccinate: HPV is considered a sexually transmitted infection (STI)—but it’s important to vaccinate your kids now, so their bodies can build immunity against the disease before they become sexually active. Each year, about 20,700 women and 14,100 men in the U.S. have HPV-related cancers that could have been prevented by the HPV vaccine.

When to vaccinate: It's recommended that all boys and girls receive the two-dose vaccine between the ages of 9 and 12, with the first dose coming at age 9 or 10. If your child receives the vaccine after the age of 15, three doses are recommended. 

Women and men who have not previously been vaccinated can also receive the vaccine up to age 26, but it’s worth noting that being vaccinated at older ages is less effective for lowering cancer risk. In special circumstances, a healthcare provider may recommend receiving the vaccine up until age 45. 

Risks: Side effects are pretty rare, but some may experience mild pain at the injection site or fever, headache, nausea or dizziness.

Medically reviewed in July 2020.

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Meningococcal Disease

Why vaccinate: Meningococcal disease is a serious bacterial infection that usually causes meningitis, but can also cause a blood infection. About 1 in 10 people who get the disease die from it, and others may have serious disabilities. It’s especially common in infants less than one year of age and people age 16 to 21.

When to vaccinate:: Kids usually get the first dose of the vaccine at 11 or 12, with a booster when they’re 16. Some teens may also get multiple doses of another meningitis B vaccine between the ages of 16 and 18. Talk to your doctor about what’s right for your child.

Risks: Soreness or redness at the injection site is common, but lasts just a day or two. Allergic reactions are very rare.

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Why vaccinate: Influenza, also known as the flu, is an extremely contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza viruses. Sometimes, the flu can lead to hospitalization and, in more serious cases, even death. Having the flu puts you at risk for other conditions and complications like pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections and ear infections.

Young children are particularly susceptible to the flu, as are pregnant women, the elderly and those with conditions like heart disease, diabetes, asthma or cancer. 

When to vaccinate: The CDC recommends everyone over the age of 6 months get the flu vaccine every season, ideally by the end of each October. Younger children up to 8 years who are getting the flu shot for the first time will need two doses, at least four weeks apart.  If you have an egg allergy, have had allergic reactions to ingredients in the vaccine in the past or have Guillain-Barré Syndrome, talk with your doctor about your options.

Risks: The most common side effects include soreness, redness and swelling near the injection site. Others may experience a low-grade fever, headache or minor muscle aches, but all symptoms usually subside within 1 or 2 days.

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