Childhood vaccinations can save lives

The benefits of the shots vastly outweigh their risks

Published: August 2012

Back to school is a good time to check up on the vaccines your children need. In fact, many schools won't allow students to enroll or participate in sports unless you can show that their shots are up to date.

Unfortunately, no kid likes shots. And some parents remain uncertain about the safety and effectiveness of childhood vaccines. In fact, at one point or another a small but vocal group of skeptics have blamed vaccines for everything from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism to brain damage and multiple sclerosis.

But many well-designed scientific studies have found that such blame is misplaced. And for all of the vaccines listed in the table below, the benefits vastly outweigh the risks, and in many cases can protect your child from potentially deadly diseases.

Reactions in the first days after a vaccination can include a sore arm, fever, aches, and pains, but these are minor, usually well-tolerated, and resolve quickly. A more serious reaction can occur, usually after four or more weeks, but it's rare. For example, the risk of brain inflammation after a measles vaccination is one in a million. But the risk after natural infection with the measles virus is much greater—about one in 1,000 cases.

So during your next office visit, ask your doctor what, if any, shots or boosters your child needs. (And ask about vaccines for adults, too.)


Who should get it

Chickenpox (varicella)

• Children who aren’t fully vaccinated and never had chicken pox should receive one or two doses.

• Older children who aren’t fully vaccinated and never had chicken pox should receive one or two doses. Timing of those doses depends on the child’s age.Timing of those doses depends on the child’s age

Diptheria, tetanus, pertusis (DTaP)

• All children. First dose should be at 2 months (five doses total). 

• DTaP is not licensed for people 7 or older. A single dose of a similar vaccine, Tdap, is recommended for people ages 11 to 64.

• Adolescents and adults should get a booster shot for tetanus and diptheria every 10 years.

Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)

• All children. First dose should be at 2 months (generally, four doses total).

• Children 5 and older not previously vaccinated don’t need the vaccine unless they are at high risk because of other health problems, such as sickle cell disease or HIV/AIDs.

Hepatitis A

• All children. First dose should be between 12 and 23 months, with a second dose at least 6 months later.

• Children who are not vaccinated by 2 years old can be vaccinated later.

Hepatitis B

• All children. First dose should be at birth (three doses total for most). Some babies might get four doses, for example, if a shot that combines Hep B with other vaccines is used.

• Anyone younger than 18 not vaccinated should get the shot.

Human papillomavirus (HPV)

• All adolescents. First dose should be at age 11 or 12  (three doses total).

• Females ages 13 to 26 and males ages 13 to 21 not previously vaccinated should get the shot.

Influenza, seasonal (inactivated)

• All children, every year starting at 6 months. Some children younger than 9 need two doses.

Measles, mumps, rubella (MMR)

• All children. First dose should be at 12 months with a second dose three to five years later.

Meningococcal (MenACWY)

• All adolescents. First dose should be at age 11 with a booster later. If the first dose is given after age 16, no booster is necessary.

Pneumococcal (PCV)

• All children. First dose should be at 2 months (four doses total).

• Children not vaccinated as infants should still get the vaccine, though the number of doses and the intervals between doses will depend on their age.

Polio (inactivated)

• All children. First dose should be at 2 months (four doses total).


• All children. First dose should be at 2 months (two or three doses total, depending on the brand of vaccine).

Back-to-school shopping guide

From backpacks to cars and for grade school to grad school, our guide has you covered.


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