The most current recommendations for some -- but not all -- childhood immunizations from the CDC and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (AICP) include:
- One rotavirus vaccine (RotaTeq), recommended in a three-dose schedule at ages 2, 4, and 6 months. The first dose should be given at ages 6 weeks through 12 weeks with subsequent doses administered at 4- to 10-week intervals. Rotavirus vaccination should not be initiated for infants more than 12 weeks old and should not be given after age 32 weeks. Another vaccine (Rotarix) requires two doses, given between 6 weeks and 23 weeks. Rotavirus is the most common cause of infectious childhood diarrhea and has historically one of the biggest reasons for childhood hospitalizations for dehydration in the U.S., although widespread use of the rotavirus vaccine has reduced the numbers. Both 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.
- The influenza vaccine, or flu shot, is now recommended for all children ages 6 months and older.
- The varicella (chickenpox) vaccine should be first given at ages 12 to 15 months and a recommended second dose should be given at ages 4 to 6 years.
- The human papillomavirus vaccine (HPV) is recommended in a three-dose schedule, with the second and third doses administered 2 and 6 months after the first dose. Routine vaccination with HPV is recommended for males and females aged 11 to 12 years of age. The vaccination series can be started as young as age 9 years; and a catch-up vaccination is recommended for females through 26 years and males through age 21 who have not been vaccinated previously or who have not completed the full vaccine series. HPV is associated with cervical cancer and genital warts.
The Importance of Vaccines for Children
Vaccines are the best way we have to prevent the spread of infectious disease. Next to sanitation and clean drinking water, vaccines have been called the greatest public health intervention in history. Many diseases that were once prevalent in the U.S. are now at their lowest levels in decades, thanks to vaccines.
Why Do We Need a Childhood Immunization Schedule?
Because of a child's developing immune system, doctors have found that vaccines work best when they are given at certain ages.
For example, measles vaccine is not usually given to children until they are at least a year old. If it is given earlier, it might not work as well.
Also, some vaccines require multiple doses before complete immunization occurs. For these to be effective, it is important that the doses are not given too close to one another. This is why doctors have developed schedules for immunizations for your children. However, if a child misses a recommended dose at a given age, he or she can catch up later.
It is important that you maintain accurate records of your child's vaccinations. Proof of childhood immunization is required for public school and many day care programs.
Childhood Vaccine Precautions
Today, vaccines are regarded as very safe and very important to your child's health. If a child has any moderate or severe illness on the day a vaccine is scheduled, it should probably be delayed until the child feels better. However, your child should not skip a scheduled vaccine if he or she has a cold or minor illness.
Sometimes, minor side effects can occur with some vaccines, such as swelling or irritation at the injection site or a low-grade fever. Tylenol or ibuprofen given around the time of the vaccination can usually prevent this.
There have been some widely circulated reports that vaccines are somehow linked to autism spectrum disorders. A recent, wide-ranging scientific investigation conducted by the Institute of Medicine concluded that there is no association between autism and vaccines. In fact, the original journal article previously linking autism and vaccines has been retracted.