- Annual COVID-19 vaccinations are now recommended for children beginning at 6 months.
- Some children may have missed other immunizations during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Experts say sticking to the recommended immunization schedule is the best way to prevent serious illness in children.
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The recommendations, which come from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), provide a road map for when children should receive various immunizations, beginning at birth and concluding at 18 years.
The change was also endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
The change may encourage some caregivers to take a closer look at their child’s immunization history, not just for COVID-19 vaccines but also for others that may have been missed during the pandemic.
So what do experts think about the change? And what should you do if your child is missing vaccinations?
In some ways, an annual COVID-19 booster for children can be thought of the same way as an annual flu shot.
Just like the flu, COVID-19 can mutate into new variants from one year to the next.
“[This addition] is important since antibodies wane over time and you need to maintain protection, and as new variants emerge, you maintain coverage against these,” Dr. John Christenson, the associate medical director of infectious disease at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, told Healthline,
While COVID-19 boosters were already recommended, the new schedule moves them from a footnote to a more prominent position.
Dr. Richard Chung, a professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Duke University School of Medicine in North Carolina, told Healthline, “Adding these vaccines more formally to the schedule will ensure that families and healthcare providers periodically reassess the immune status of children and keep them up-to-date and protected. COVID-19 vaccines have been shown to be among the most effective and safest vaccines available for any vaccine-preventable illnesses.”
“Adding the vaccine to the routine schedule will help normalize COVID-19 vaccines as a typical part of our broader vaccination strategy to keep kids safe from all vaccine-preventable illnesses,” said Chung
“The ability to not settle for merely treating infections but to actually prevent them in the first place is an incredible privilege and we strongly urge families to take advantage of the opportunity to get vaccinated,” he added.
All medical treatments — immunizations included — do carry some level of risk, but experts agree that the childhood immunization schedule is well understood and the small risks that do exist are far outweighed by the benefits.
“Available COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effectively prevent the small chance of severe infection in children. Each vaccinated child also helps protect their parents, grandparents, and older family members, at a minimal risk to themselves,” Dr. Thomas Silva, the pediatric medical director at East Boston Neighborhood Health Center, told Healthline.
The recommended schedule sometimes includes many immunizations all at once, but this too has been studied and found to be safe, experts said.
“Parents should not be worried about overloading their children’s immune systems, as children are naturally exposed to germs through their social life. Vaccinations are just another tool in protecting our children through their youth,” Dr. Ilan Shapiro, FACHE, the chief health correspondent and medical affairs officer at AltaMed Health Services in Los Angeles, told Healthline.
“As a father, I want to give my children the best tools to focus on their education and friendships. I can give them the healthiest life by vaccinating them against adolescent diseases like measles, mumps, polio, RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), and COVID-19,” he added.
Some caregivers might consider altering the immunization schedule to space it out over more time, but experts generally don’t recommend this.
“Spreading out vaccines has not been studied to ensure that the desired immune benefits still occur and no additional safety benefits have been demonstrated. As such, sticking to the schedule is best,” said Chung.
“Caregivers should not consider spreading out immunizations over a longer period of time. Delaying immunizations delays protection,” Silva said.
“That being said, children with HIV infection, current cancer, or other severe immune deficiencies, who are followed by specialists, may need to follow a specific, separate schedule for some vaccines as indicated by their doctor,” he added.
“Every year the American Academy of Pediatrics, [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], and the American Academy of Family Physicians publish updated immunization schedules, usually in January. One of these schedules covers children who are off-schedule and is used for catch-up immunizations. It is never too late to vaccinate a child or an adult missing vaccines,” said Christenson.