Vaccines for Babies: Understanding the Vaccine Schedule

Your baby’s getting a lot of shots during their first year. Here’s why.

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Seeing your sweet newborn receive their first shot can be unsettling—nobody likes needles, after all. Add in the quantity of vaccinations, and it can become overwhelming.

As much as you don’t want to see your child cry from the poke of a needle (or if you’re worried about things you’ve heard about potential vaccine side effects), rest assured that the immunization schedule has been carefully researched, studied, tested, and studied again to ensure maximum safety and effectiveness.

“We give children several immunizations at once in order to stimulate their immune system,” says Dyan Hes, MD, a pediatrician in New York City. “We’ve actually found in studies that children actually respond better to multiple immunizations at once than getting one at a time.”

Here’s a look at the vaccines your baby gets during those first-year checkups:

  • Hepatitis B. Hep B is an infection that attacks the liver and can leave permanent damage and scarring. Immunization against hepatitis B is usually given in the hospital after delivery. This is crucial because mothers can transmit the infection to their child during delivery, but immediate vaccination can prevent the infection. Subsequent vaccines for hepatitis B are given in three doses: at birth, at two months, and at six months.

  • Polio. This serious infection caused thousands of illnesses each year in the United States until vaccination began in 1955, according to the CDC. Polio can lead to permanent paralysis, as in the case of President Franklin Roosevelt, or even death. Vaccines for polio are given at the two-, four-, and six-month mark.

  • Rotavirus. This easy-to-spread virus causes severe diarrhea, vomiting, and fever, particularly among infants and toddlers. Vaccines for rotavirus (which are oral, not shots) are also given at two, four, and six months.

  • Haemophilus influenzae type B (HIB). Prior to vaccination became routine, Hib disease was a major cause of bacterial meningitis—swelling of the brain and spinal cord—in young children. (Learn more about how meningitis affects the body here.) Children receive this vaccine at months two, four, and six months old, as well as a booster between 12 and 18 months.

  • Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV). Infection by pneumococci can lead to pneumonia, meningitis, and febrile bacteraemia. An estimated 1.6 million people die from these diseases each year, according to the World Health Organization. This vaccine is also given to babies at two, four, and six months, as well as a booster between 12 and 18 months.

  • Diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTaP). Diphtheria once caused tens of thousands of deaths a year in America, but infection is very rare since routine vaccination began. Tetanus, a bacterial infection, causes lockjaw and other painful tightening of muscles. Pertussis is more commonly known as whooping cough; it can be life-threatening for infants. DTaP vaccines are given at two, four, and six months, and again between 12 and 18 months.

  • Influenza. Many people experience the flu several times throughout their life. Though many people treat the flu like it’s a really bad cold, flu virus actually causes thousands of deaths each year in the United States, according to the CDC. Those with weakened immune systems, like infants and people over age 65, are at the greatest risk of serious flu complications. When baby gets vaccinated for the first time, after age six months, they get two doses of the flu vaccine. Then they get one dose annually after that. (Learn more about how the flu affects the body here.)

  • Mumps, measles, and rubella (MMR). These three viruses are all life-threatening on their own, according to pediatrician Alok Patel, MD, of New York Presbyterian-Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital. This vaccine is given between 12 and 18 months.

  • Varicella (chickenpox). This vaccination is relatively new, so many Gen X or older millenial parents have memories of having chickenpox themselves and may not see what the big deal is. However, chickenpox causes 10,600 hospitalizations and 100 to 150 deaths each year, according to the CDC, and used to be another leading cause of meningitis. Children receive this vaccine between 12 and 18 months.

  • Hepatitis A. Like hep B, this virus affects the liver. Children receive this vaccine between 12 and 18 months.

“Many of these vaccines are going to need booster doses as your child gets older,” says Preeti Parikh, MD, a pediatrician at The Mount Sinai Hospital and chief medical editor at HealthiNation. “Research has shown that sometimes the immunity wanes.”

While needles and injections can make you a little anxious, keep in mind that these vaccinations are one of the most comprehensively studied subjects in medicine and their success rate has saved millions of lives.