Your baby’s vaccinations
What are vaccinations and why does your baby need them?
A vaccination is a shot that contains a vaccine. A vaccine is a medicine that helps protect your baby from certain diseases.
You may wonder why your baby needs vaccinations for diseases that you’ve never heard of. You may not know anyone who’s ever had a disease like polio or diphtheria. Many diseases that vaccinations help prevent once infected and killed many children in this country. Because of vaccinations, most people in this country don’t get these diseases any more. Vaccinations help protect your baby from diseases and help prevent him from spreading diseases to others.
What vaccinations does your baby need?
In the first 2 years of life, your baby gets several vaccinations to help protect her from diseases. Our vaccination schedule shows each vaccination your baby gets up to 6 years. It shows how many doses your baby gets of each vaccine and when she gets them. It’s based on the schedule from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (also called CDC). The CDC has done lots of research to make sure vaccination schedules are safe for children.
Your provider may recommend a different vaccination schedule if your baby is at risk of getting certain diseases. For example, your baby may need a different schedule if:
- Your baby has health conditions, like HIV, sickle cell disease (also called SCD), heart disease and certain cancers. HIV (stands for human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system. In a healthy person, the immune system protects the body from infections, cancers and some diseases. An infection is a sickness you get from bad germs. SCD is a condition in which the red blood cells in your baby’s body are shaped like a sickle (like the letter C). This causes the blood cells to be stiff and block blood flow, which can increase your baby’s risk of infection.
- Your baby is travelling outside the United States. Some diseases are more common in other parts of the world than in the U.S., so check with your baby’s provider if your baby is travelling outside this country.
- There’s a disease outbreak. An outbreak is the sudden start or increase of a disease in a certain time and place.
All babies, including babies who spend time in the newborn intensive care unit (also called NICU), need vaccinations. Premature and low-birthweight babies follow the same CDC vaccination schedule. Premature babies are born early, before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Low-birthweight babies weigh less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces at birth. Vaccinations are important for premature babies because they have a higher risk of problems from diseases than babies born on time. The only vaccination that may be delayed is for hepatitis B. Most newborns get this vaccination within 24 hours of birth. If your baby doesn’t weigh enough or isn’t stable (healthy enough), she may get this vaccination later. If it’s delayed for your baby, ask your baby’s provider when your baby will get it.
Talk to your baby’s health care provider to learn more about vaccinations.
What diseases do vaccinations help prevent?
Vaccinations help protect your baby from these diseases:
- Flu (also called influenza). The flu is a serious disease that can cause fever, chills, cough, sore throat, body aches, vomiting and diarrhea.
- Haemophilus influenzae type b (also called Hib). This disease is caused by bacteria. It can cause meningitis, pneumonia, other infections and death. Bacteria are tiny organisms that live in and around your body. Some bacteria are good for your body, and others can make you sick.
- Hepatitis A and B. These are liver infections caused by hepatitis A and B viruses.
- Measles, mumps and rubella (also called German measles). Measles is a disease that’s easily spread and may cause rash, cough and fever. Mumps can cause fever, headache and swollen glands in the face and neck. Rubella is an infection that may cause mild flu-like symptoms and a rash.
- Pneumococcal disease. This disease is caused by pneumococcus, a kind of bacteria. Pneumococcus can cause many kinds of infections, like ear and sinus infections, pneumonia, meningitis and bacteremia. Ear infections can affect different parts of the ear and can cause fluid buildup and pain. Sinus infections can happen when fluid builds up in the sinuses. Sinuses are hollow air spaces within the bones around the nose. Pneumonia is an infection in one or both lungs. Meningitis is an infection that causes swelling in the brain and spinal cord. Bacteremia is a blood infection.
- Polio. This disease is caused by a virus. It can infect the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and cause paralysis (when you can’t move one or more parts of your body) and even death.
- Rotavirus. This infection is caused by a virus. It can cause severe diarrhea, vomiting, fever and belly pain. It can lead to dehydration (when you don’t have enough water in your body).
- Tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. Tetanus is an infection that affects your nerves and muscles. Diphtheria is an infection that can cause sore throat, fever, weakness and trouble breathing. Pertussis (also called whooping cough) is an infection that spreads easily and is dangerous for a baby.
- Varicella (also called chickenpox). This infection spreads easily and causes itchy skin, rash and fever.
Do vaccinations have risks or side effects?
Like any medicine, vaccinations can cause side effects. A side effect is an effect of a drug or treatment that is not the intended result. For example, a side effect of some cold medicines is that they make you sleepy. Most of the time, side effects from vaccinations are mild, go away on their own and last only a few days. Most side effects are a good sign that your baby’s immune system is building up protection against the disease he was vaccinated against. Your baby’s immune system helps protect him from infection.
Ask your baby’s provider about possible side effects of vaccinations, including:
- Low fever
- Redness, swelling or soreness at the spot where your baby got the shot
Severe allergic reactions to vaccines are rare. An allergic reaction (like sneezing, a rash or trouble breathing) is a reaction to something you touch, eat or breathe in. About 1 in 1 million doses of vaccines causes a severe allergic reaction. A severe allergic reaction happens within minutes or a few hours of the vaccination. If your baby has signs of a severe allergic reaction or a reaction that you think is an emergency, call 911. Signs of a severe allergic reaction include:
- Breathing problems
- Swelling of the throat and face
- Hives. These are red bumps on your skin that sometimes itch.
- Fever, sleepiness and not wanting to eat (in babies)
- Weakness, dizziness and fast heartbeat (in older children)
For almost all children, the benefits of getting vaccinated are greater than the side effects they may have. This may not be true for children who have had a severe allergic reaction to a vaccine, who have a weakened immune system or who have a severe illness such as cancer. If you’re worried about the risks of vaccinations to your baby, talk to your baby’s provider.
Do vaccinations cause autism?
No. Vaccinations do not cause autism spectrum disorder (also called ASD). ASD is a developmental disability that can cause major social, communication and behavior challenges.
Why does your baby need the same vaccination more than once?
Your baby needs more than one of every vaccination in the vaccination schedule. For some vaccinations, your baby needs more than one dose to build up enough immunity to protect her from disease. Immunity is her body’s protection from disease. For other vaccinations, immunity decreases over time, so your child needs another dose to boost her immunity. Some vaccinations help protect your child against germs that are always changing, like the flu. This is why your child needs a flu shot every year. To get the best protection from disease, your baby needs all the recommended doses of each vaccine.
Can getting more than one vaccination at a time harm your baby?
During a well-baby visit, your baby may get more than one vaccination — more than one shot. You may worry that too many shots at once may be too much for your baby. The recommended vaccinations have been tested together and are safe for your baby to get at the same time.
- For parents: Vaccines for your children
- Parent’s Guide to Childhood Immunizations
- Why Does My Child Need to be Immunized?
- Vaccine Education Center at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
- The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
See also: Vaccinations and pregnancy
Last reviewed April, 2018