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A Parent's Guide to Vaccines

Knowing which shots kids need and when can be confusing. Our expert clears it up.
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WebMD Magazine - Feature

The tears and screaming, as upsetting as they are, are well worth the effort. A simple prick of the skin provides children with lifetime protection against diseases like chickenpox, meningitis, and hepatitis. With a schedule starting at birth and lasting into childhood, millions of kids in the United States are vaccinated each year, usually before school begins in the fall. Mary Glodé, MD, a professor of pediatrics and chief of the infectious diseases section at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children's Hospital Colorado, explains which vaccines kids should be getting and when -- starting with the first shot babies receive only hours after birth.

Hepatitis B

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When: The hepatitis B vaccine is a three-dose series. Before newborns leave the hospital, they are given a shot in case their mothers have the disease, which can be transmitted to a child during birth, says Glodé. Second and third doses are usually given one month and six months later. Immunity lasts for more than 20 years.

Why: Hep B is a virus that can damage the liver, causing infection and scarring, and increasing cancer risk. Kids with hep B are at high risk of becoming seriously sick -- about 90% of infected infants eventually develop lifelong infection, and 25% die from liver disease. 

Rotavirus

When: There are two brands of the rotavirus vaccine, one that requires two doses and one that requires three -- at ages 2 months, 4 months, and 6 months, if necessary. All are given as a liquid by mouth.

Why: Rotavirus is the No. 1 cause of vomiting and diarrhea among children worldwide. The virus can also cause fever, loss of appetite, and dehydration.

The vaccine does its job well. Studies show that during a baby's first year, the vaccine prevents more than 85% of severe rotavirus infections and more than 75% of all rotavirus infections.

Two studies show the RotaTeq and Rotarix vaccines carry a small increased risk of intussusception -- a condition in which the small bowel folds back inside another part of the intestine, causing a bowel obstruction. Researchers conclude the benefits of the vaccines outweigh the risk of intussusception. 

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