Keeping measles, hepatitis and polio far away from children is every parent’s goal, and the best way to do that is to follow the immunization schedule put out every year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Rita Patel, the program director of the pediatric residency at Beaumont Children’s in Royal Oak, says heeding Michigan vaccination laws and following the federal vaccine schedule for children is imperative to keeping kids healthy. That’s because the immune response can be stronger or weaker at different ages, making the vaccine more or less effective as a child grows.
“Every year, the CDC publishes the schedule, and that’s what we follow as pediatricians,” she says. “There are small tweaks in order to protect children as much as possible, like if a good study says it’s better to do a vaccine at 2 months instead of 4 months, they might make the change.”
Here’s a look at the current CDC vaccine schedule for children as of 2021.
“The first year of life is the most important for following the schedule for two reasons: All the diseases are much worse in young kids, and because the studies show that doing it at those ages and that frequency will provide the best protection against disease,” Patel explains.
Before leaving the hospital, an infant will receive the first shot in a three-shot series for hepatitis B. Later, at two months, he or she will be given first doses of five shots: rotavirus; diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis; haemophilus influenzae; pneumococcal conjugate; and poliovirus.
The child will get the second shot in the series for hepatitis B, as well.
At 4 months, a baby is given the second dose of the five shots given in the first months of life. There are no new shots introduced at 4 months, but at 6 months, they’ll receive a third round of those same five shots, and can also begin the annual vaccination against influenza, which is key in protecting your child from the flu.
Certain high-risk children can receive the measles vaccine and meningococcal vaccine at 6 months. All kids can receive their third hepatitis B vaccine starting at this age, as well.
“There are a lot of visits during that first year,” Patel says. “All vaccines happen during those check-ups with the pediatrician, but that’s not all we do. We make sure they’re growing the appropriate amount, weigh them and make sure they have the right nutrition.”
A few of the shots given in the second month of life are given more than three times, so the child will be given the fourth dose of diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, haemophilus influenzae and pneumococcal conjugate between 12 and 15 months.
For a child who did not already receive the measles vaccination, he or she will need three new shots at 12 months: measles, mumps and rubella; varicella; and hepatitis A.
“There are a few more vaccines between 12 and 15 months, then a little break until they’re pre-K, then nothing until 10 or 11 – so there definitely are big breaks,” Patel says. “Some parents start feeling like the only reasons to go to the pediatrician is to go get the shots, but we still need to see them every year.
“We need to make sure they’re not anemic, not lead poisoned,” she adds. “During those ages when they don’t need shots, they still need to go in.”
At 18 months, the window for the third shot of hepatitis B, the fourth shot of diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis and the third dose of poliovirus closes. The window for the second shot of Hepatitis A closes at 23 months.
At this age, the vaccine schedule for children begins to slow down, aside from the annual flu vaccine. At 4 years old, children will get another dose of diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis; poliovirus; measles, mumps and rubella; and varicella.
At 11 or 12 years, kids will receive three shots: HPV, meningococcal and another round of the diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccine.
Patel says that at 16, kids need to get a booster against the meningococcal viruses.
“In addition, the meningococcal B vaccine (Bexsero or Trumemba) is optional, but a good idea. It’s not on the required vaccine schedule for children, but some people choose to do it,” she says. “They had an outbreak at several colleges, so now people are getting increasingly worried about that disease. I would strongly consider the meningococcal B vaccine especially if your child is going to college.”
After all, there have been reports that parents are falling behind on teenage vaccinations — so even though the frequency of those shots drops at this stage, awareness is key.
Past age 18, Patel says it’s important to look into what vaccines you’ll need if entering another country — and to remember the annual flu vaccine.
The Pfizer version of the COVID-19 vaccine is currently available for kids ages 12-15, but is not yet approved for kids under the age of 12.
The CDC does recommend that everyone who is both eligible and physically able to get the COVID-19 does get one.
This post was originally published in 2018 and is updated regularly.
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