About one month after your baby is born, they are given the first of their vaccinations. Ideally, by the time your child starts kindergarten they will have received:
- all three hepatitis B vaccinations
- diphtheria vaccine
- tetanus vaccine
- acellular pertussis (DTaP) vaccine
- haemophilus influenzae type b vaccine (Hib)
- pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV)
- inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV)
- measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine
Schools require proof that your child has been vaccinated, and might not admit your child if all of the aforementioned vaccinations have not been given.
But there are several other vaccines you might want to consider for your kids — as well as yourself.
1. Varicella (Chickenpox) Vaccine
It wasn’t that long ago that parents would send their kids off to play with schoolmates and friends infected with chickenpox. The logic being that it was better to have chickenpox when you were young, as cases are worse when you are older.
However, getting the chickenpox vaccine is much safer than getting the disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), all healthy children, ages 12 months through 12 years, should have two doses of the chickenpox vaccination. The CDC recommends the first vaccination be given between 12 and 15 months, and the second between 4 and 6 years of age.
Each state has its own chickenpox vaccine requirements for young children in child care and school, and young adults in college. Even if you don’t live in a state where your child is required to get a two-dose varicella vaccine, some private child care centers, schools, and colleges require their students to be inoculated for chickenpox.
Research suggests that the varicella vaccine is relatively safe. Serious side effects are rare, and include:
- thrombocytopenia (low platelet count)
- acute cerebellar ataxia (brain injury that causes balance problems)
- acute hemiparesis (paralysis of one body part)
There are other side effects you are more likely to experience that are usually mild. They can include:
- soreness, swelling, and redness around the injection site
2. Rotavirus Vaccine (RV)
Rotavirus is a highly contagious virus that can lead to severe diarrhea in infants and young children, and it often goes along with vomiting and fever. If left untreated, it can cause severe dehydration and even death.
According to PATH, an international nonprofit healthcare organization, each year more than 450,000 children younger than the age of 5 die from diarrheal disease caused by rotavirus globally. Several million more are hospitalized annually after being infected with the virus.
The CDC recommends that most babies get vaccinated to avoid contracting this virus.
Two oral rotavirus vaccines have recently been approved to prevent the rotavirus infection (Rotarix and RotaTeq). The vaccines come in either two or three doses. While not required, the CDC recommends doses at 2, 4, and 6 months (if needed). The first dose must be given before 15 weeks of age and the last must be given by 8 months of age.
Research suggests that not all babies should receive the rotavirus vaccine. Babies who have had an allergic reaction to a rotavirus vaccine or have other serious allergies should not get the vaccine. The CDC also recommends babies with severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), other immune system problems, or a kind of bowel blockage called intussusception not get the vaccine.
Like other vaccines, the rotavirus vaccine comes with risks. Side effects are usually mild and go away on their own. These include temporary diarrhea or vomiting. Serious side effects have been reported, and include intussusception and allergic reaction.
3. Hepatitis A Vaccine
Hepatitis A is an acute liver disease caused by the hepatitis A virus. Symptoms can last from a few weeks to several months. The CDC recommends a hepatitis A vaccination for all children between their 1st and 2nd birthdays. It should be given in two shots, six months apart.
The hepatitis A vaccine is also sometimes recommended to adults. Travelers to certain countries and people at risk of contracting hepatitis A — such as men who have sex with men, people who use drugs, and people with chronic liver disease — should consider being vaccinated for hepatitis A.
The hepatitis A vaccine is relatively safe. Mild side effects include soreness around the injection site, headache, loss of appetite, and tiredness. The risk of severe allergic reaction is small, but serious. You should go to the emergency room or call 911 if within a few hours of being vaccinated if you experience:
- facial swelling
- fast heartbeat
4. Meningococcal Vaccine (MCV)
Meningococcal disease is a serious bacterial illness that includes meningitis (the inflammation of the protective layer surrounding the brain and spinal cord) and blood poisoning. Kids can get meningococcal disease by living in close quarters, sharing utensils, kissing, or inhaling the secondhand smoke of an infected person.
The CDC recommends that children ages 11 through 18 years get one dose of the meningococcal vaccine (Menactra). In addition, college freshmen living in dormitories should also get the meningococcal vaccine. Some colleges require their students to be vaccinated before moving on campus.
Research suggests that meningococcal vaccines are relatively safe. Mild side effects include:
- pain and redness at the injection site
One severe, but rare, side effect is Guillain-Barré syndrome, a disorder that causes a person’s own immune system to damage their nerve cells. This can cause muscle weakness, paralysis, and permanent nerve damage. According to the CDC, the vaccine is safe for all people except those who have had allergic reactions to previous doses of meningococcal vaccine.
5. Human Papillomavirus Vaccine (HPV)
Human papillomavirus vaccine (HPV) is a common virus that is passed through genital contact. According to the CDC, almost 80 million people (about 1 in 4) are infected in the United States, with about 14 million people becoming infected each year. Some strains of HPV types can cause cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers in women, penile cancer in men, anal and throat cancers, and genital warts in both men and women.
The HPV vaccine is recommended for 11- and 12-year-old girls. It is also recommended for girls and women ages 13 through 26 years who have not yet been vaccinated. The three HPV vaccines currently on the market in the United States are: Gardasil 9, Gardasil, and Cervarix, and studies suggest all are relatively safe. Side effects are usually mild and can include:
- swelling at the injection site
There are no serious side effects associated with the vaccine.
6. Tdap Booster
Tdap boosters are combination booster shots that protect adults from diphtheria (a serious infection of the nose and throat), tetanus (a bacterial disease that attacks the body’s nervous system), and pertussis (called whooping cough, which is a very contagious infection of the respiratory system). These diseases used to be very common in the United States before this vaccine was developed.
Since Tdap boosters have been administered, the CDC reports that cases of tetanus and diphtheria have decreased by 99 percent and cases of pertussis have dropped by around 80 percent. Most states have some type of Tdap vaccination requirement for children, teens, and young adults.
Recently, the single-dose Boostrix was approved in use from children as young as 10, up to adults as old as 64. ADACEL is given as a single dose to children at age 11 or 12.
The CDC recommends that people who did not receive the Tdap vaccine at this age get it as soon as possible. Healthcare professionals and anyone having close contact with newborn babies should receive a Tdap vaccination. This includes pregnant women, who should get the vaccine during every pregnancy to protect their newborn from pertussis.
Studies suggest that the Tdap vaccine is relatively safe. However, people who have experienced previous allergic reactions to Tdap or other vaccinations should not be vaccinated. Tell your doctor if you experience seizures or have other nervous system problems, have had severe pain or swelling after previous vaccines, have had Guillian-Barré Syndrome, or are feeling under the weather on the day you were scheduled to get your Tdap booster.
Whether or not you decide to get these additional vaccinations for yourself or your child is your choice. Some vaccinations can cause serious side effects in certain people. However, for many healthy individuals, additional vaccines are helpful, not harmful.