Immunization gives parents the safe, proven power to protect their children against 14 serious and sometimes deadly diseases before they turn 2 years old.
Most young parents in the U.S. have never seen the devastating effects that diseases like polio, measles or pertussis can have on a family or community. It’s easy to think of these as diseases of the past, but the truth is they still exist. They may be only a plane ride away!
Every dose of vaccine is important to protect against infectious diseases like the flu, measles and whooping cough that can be life-threatening for newborns and young babies. You can give the best protection by following the recommended immunization schedule and by making sure those who will be around your baby are vaccinated, too.
About Whooping Cough
Whooping cough (pertussis) is a highly contagious respiratory disease that can be serious for anyone, but is life-threatening in newborns and babies. Since there is no pertussis vaccine for newborns, three strategies are used to protect them against whooping cough:
- The pregnant women should get Tdap vaccine in the third trimester so the baby is born with some of the mother’s immunity (which only lasts a short while).
- All family members, caregivers and others get Tdap before they meet the new baby. This is called “cocooning”.
- Babies get their first DTaP on time, at 2 months of age, to start building their own immunity to pertussis. Additional doses of DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis) vaccine should be given at at 4 and 6 months of age, again at 15 months of age, and a booster at age 4-6 years.
The recommended immunization schedule is designed to offer protection early in life when babies are vulnerable and before it’s likely they will be exposed to diseases. All childhood vaccines are given as a series of 2 or more doses. The childhood vaccine schedule shows the recommended ages at which each vaccine dose should be given. Vaccine doses are recommended at specific ages based on studies showing when children are at highest risk for the different diseases and at what ages vaccines work best. Some of the doses on the schedule may be given over a range of ages. A number of “combination” vaccines are also available, which contain several vaccines in a single injection. To view the schedule, you can visit the CDC website at: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/.
Vaccines from birth through age 2
- Hep B is a 3-dose series that protects against Hepatitis B. The first dose is usually given soon after a baby is born.
- RV vaccine protects against rotavirus, a serious diarrheal illness. It is a two or three dose series that should start at between 6 and 14 weeks of age.
- DTaP vaccine protects against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. 5 doses total starting at age 2 months.
- Hib vaccine protects against Haemophilis influenza type b, which was the leading cause of bacterial meningitis among children under 5 before Hib vaccine was developed in 1988. The first dose should be at 2 months of age.
- PCV vaccine protects against 13 strains of pneumococcal bacteria that cause most severe pneumococcal infections in children. The first dose should also be given at 2 months of age.
- IPV vaccine protects against polio, with a series of 4 doses beginning at 2 months of age. There were 25,000 cases of polio in the US each year before vaccination was begun.
- MMR vaccine protects against measles, mumps and rubella. These were common childhood diseases before vaccine was developed; but often with serious complications. MMR is recommended at age 12-15 months, with a booster at age 4-6 years.
- Varicella vaccine protects against chickenpox. Varicella is also recommended at age 12-15 months, with a booster at age 4-6 years. Chickenpox can be serious, especially in young infants and adults. Before vaccination, 100 people died of chickenpox in the US each year.
- Hepatitis A vaccine protects against a serious liver disease caused by the hepatitis A virus. The two dose series can be started between ages 12-23 months.
- Flu vaccine protects against influenza. A yearly flu vaccine is recommended for everyone age 6 months and older.
For every vaccine there are “contraindications” and “precautions.” These are conditions that make a child ineligible to get certain vaccines, or cause vaccine doses to be postponed. For example, a child who has a severe allergy to eggs should not get flu vaccine (which contains egg protein); or a child with a weakened immune system should not get live-virus vaccines. A child who is moderately or seriously ill should usually wait until he recovers before getting any vaccine.
All vaccines used in the Unites States are required to go through years of extensive safety testing before they are licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). FDA and CDC work with health care providers across the nation to monitor the safety of vaccines, including reporting any adverse events.
Protecting Future Generations
Vaccines have reduced and, in some cases, eliminated many diseases that killed or severely disabled people just a few generations ago. Smallpox is the first, and so far the only, disease completely eradicated worldwide, thanks to vaccination. The last case of smallpox on Earth was in 1977. Children don’t have to get smallpox shots anymore because the disease no longer exists.
If we continue vaccinating now, parents in the future may be able to trust that some diseases of today will no longer be around to harm their children.