As a parent, you want to do whatever you can to protect your child and keep them safe and healthy. Vaccines are a vital way to do that. They help protect your child from a range of dangerous and preventable diseases.

In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) keeps us informed about which vaccines should be given to people of all ages.

They recommend that several vaccines be given during infancy and childhood. Read on to learn more about the CDC’s vaccine guidelines for young children.

For newborns, breast milk can help protect against many diseases. However, this immunity wears off after breastfeeding is over, and some children aren’t breastfed at all.

Whether or not children are breastfed, vaccines can help protect them from disease. Vaccines can also help prevent the spread of disease through the rest of the population through herd immunity.

Vaccines work by imitating infection of a certain disease (but not its symptoms) in your child’s body. This prompts your child’s immune system to develop weapons called antibodies.

These antibodies fight the disease that the vaccine is meant to prevent. With their body now primed to make antibodies, your child’s immune system can defeat future infection from the disease. It’s an amazing feat.

Vaccinations aren’t all given right after a baby is born. Each is given on a different timeline. They’re mostly spaced throughout the first 24 months of your child’s life, and many are given in several stages or doses.

Don’t worry — you don’t have to remember the vaccination schedule all by yourself. Your child’s doctor will guide you through the process.

An outline of the recommended vaccination timeline is shown below. This table covers the basics of the CDC’s recommended vaccination schedule.

Some children may need a different schedule, based on their health conditions. For more details, visit the CDC website or talk to your child’s doctor.

For a description of each vaccine in the table, see the following section.

Birth2 months4 months6 months1 year15–18 months4–6 years
HepB1st dose2nd dose (age 1–2 months)3rd dose (age 6–18 months)
RV1st dose2nd dose3rd dose (in some cases)
DTaP1st dose2nd dose3rd dose4th dose5th dose
Hib1st dose2nd dose3rd dose (in some cases)Booster dose (age 12–15 months)
PCV1st dose2nd dose3rd dose4th dose (age 12–15 months)
IPV1st dose2nd dose3rd dose (age 6–18 months)4th dose
InfluenzaYearly vaccination (seasonally as appropriate)Yearly vaccination (seasonally as appropriate)Yearly vaccination (seasonally as appropriate)Yearly vaccination (seasonally as appropriate)
MMR1st dose (age 12–15 months)2nd dose
Varicella1st dose (age 12–15 months)2nd dose
HepA2 dose series (age 12–24 months)

Vaccine requirements

There is no federal law that requires vaccination. However, each state has their own laws about which vaccines are required for children to attend public or private school, day care, or college.

The CDC provides information on how each state approaches the issue of vaccines. To learn more about your state’s requirements, talk to your child’s doctor.

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Here are the essentials to know about each of these vaccines.

  • HepB: Protects against hepatitis B (infection of the liver). HepB is given in three shots. The first shot is given at the time of birth. Most states require HepB vaccination for a child to enter school.
  • RV: Protects against rotavirus, a major cause of diarrhea. RV is given in two or three doses, depending on the vaccine used.
  • DTaP: Protects against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (whooping cough). It requires five doses during infancy and childhood. Tdap or Td boosters are then given during adolescence and adulthood.
  • Hib: Protects against Haemophilus influenzae type b. This infection used to be a leading cause of bacterial meningitis. Hib vaccination is given in three or four doses.
  • PCV: Protects against pneumococcal disease, which includes pneumonia. PCV is given in a series of four doses.
  • IPV: protects against polio and is given in four doses.
  • Influenza (flu): Protects against the flu. This is a seasonal vaccine that is given yearly. Flu shots can be given to your child each year, starting at age 6 months. (First-ever dose for any child under age 8 is two doses given 4 weeks apart.) Flu season can run from September through May.
  • MMR: Protects against measles, mumps, and rubella (German measles). MMR is given in two doses. The first dose is recommended for infants between 12 and 15 months. The second dose is usually given between ages 4 and 6 years. However, it can be given as soon as 28 days after the first dose.
  • Varicella: Protects against chickenpox. Varicella is recommended for all healthy children. It’s given in two doses.
  • HepA: Protects against hepatitis A. This is given as two doses between 1 and 2 years of age.

In a word, no. Vaccines have been shown to be safe for children. There is no evidence that vaccines cause autism. The CDC points to research that refutes any link between vaccines and autism.

In addition to being safe to use, vaccines have been shown to protect children from some very serious diseases. People used to get very sick or die from all of the diseases that vaccines now help prevent. In fact, even chickenpox can be deadly.

Thanks to vaccines, however, these diseases (except influenza) are rare in the United States today.

Vaccines can cause mild side effects, such as redness and swelling where the injection was given. These effects should go away within a few days.

Serious side effects, such as a severe allergic reaction, are very rare. The risks from the disease are much greater than the risk of serious side effects from the vaccine. For more information about the safety of vaccines for children, ask your child’s doctor.

Vaccines are an important part of keeping your child safe and healthy. If you have questions about vaccines, the vaccine schedule, or how to “catch up” if your child didn’t start receiving vaccines from birth, be sure to talk to your child’s doctor.