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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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Why: The Hib­bacteria causes meningitis, an infection of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord that can lead to deafness and death. It's also one of the bacteria behind pneumonia, as well as bone and joint infections that cause septic arthritis, or inflammation of the joints.

"Infants are born with an immunity to Hib they get from their mother," Glodé says. "But that natural immunity is gone by 6 months. Then, through exposure, you gain immunity again around age 5 or 6."

 

Pneumococcal Disease

When: "There are roughly 100 different strains of the pneumococcus bacteria that can cause infection in children," Glodé says. "First, the PCV vaccine covered seven of these strains, but it was updated in 2010 to cover 13 of the most severe strains -- so now it's called PCV 13."

The PCV, or pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, is given in four doses at 2, 4, and 6 months, with a final dose at 12 months or older.

Why: A bacterium called Streptococcus pneumoniae can cause blood infections, pneumonia, and pneumococcal meningitis. (Like meningitis, this infection causes swelling and irritation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord.) It's particularly dangerous for kids under 2 with developing immune systems. The bacterium has become resistant to some antibiotics, so the PCV vaccine is more important than ever.

 

Polio

When: This is given as a shot over four doses, at 2, 4, and 6 to 18 months of age, with a booster between 4 and 6 years.

Why: Polio is a virus that can cause paralysis and, eventually, death by paralyzing the muscles that help a person breathe. It infected thousands of people a year in the United States before vaccination began in 1955, successfully eliminating the disease in this country. But because polio still exists elsewhere around the world, it's important kids are protected, Glodé explains.

 

MMRV

When: The MMRV vaccine is given at 12 to 15 months of age, then again at 4 to 6 years.

Why: It's a mouthful -- measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella. And you don't want your child to be infected with any of them. Measles can cause rash, cough, and fever and lead to ear infections, pneumonia, and possibly death. Mumps can cause fever, headache, and swollen glands and lead to deafness, meningitis, and swelling of the testicles or ovaries. Rubella causes rash, fever, and sometimes arthritis. Finally, varicella, or chicken pox, can cause rashes, itching, fever, and fatigue, leading to skin infections and scars. In rare cases it can cause encephalitis, an infection of the brain.

 

Hepatitis A

When: The hep A vaccine is given between ages 1 and 2, and again six months later.

Why: Hepatitis A is a liver disease that can cause jaundice and severe diarrhea; one in five of those infected needs to be hospitalized. While kids aren't at significant risk of becoming seriously ill from hepatitis A, adults are, Glodé says. Vaccinations in children are aimed partially at protecting older family members and caregivers. 

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