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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: 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.

    Flu

    When: Once a year, starting at 6 months, kids should be vaccinated against influenza. Kids 2 and older who do not have asthma or a compromised immune system can get the flu vaccine in nasal spray form.

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