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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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Diphtheria-Tetanus-Pertussis (DTaP)

When: "This was the first combination vaccine made," says Glodé. "The purpose was to simply minimize the number of times a pediatrician needs to poke a child." DTaP follows a five-dose schedule: at 2, 4, 6, and 15 to 18 months, and then again between 4 and 6 years of age. Immunity lasts at least 10 years.

Why: This one shot protects against three dangerous diseases. Diphtheria is a respiratory disease that can lead to breathing problems and, potentially, paralysis, heart failure, and death. Tetanus is a bacterial infection that can cause muscle spasms that tear muscle tissues or fracture the spine. Pertussis, known as whooping cough, is a highly contagious respiratory infection that causes coughing so powerful and prolonged that a child may stop breathing during an episode.

Haemophilus Influenzae Type B

When: The haemophilus influenzae type b bacteria (known as Hib) vaccine is given at 2 and 4 months of age, and again at 6 months if a third dose is necessary. (This depends on the brand of vaccine used.) The final dose is given at 12 to 15 months and protects a child until his own immunity kicks in several years later.

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.

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