Vaccines for infants and children save lives. Globally, it’s estimated that 2 million to 3 million deaths are prevented each year thanks to childhood vaccination efforts. In the U.S., experts estimate childhood vaccines among each birth cohort prevent 20 million illnesses and more than 40,000 deaths.
From birth to age two years of age, health officials recommend infants and toddlers receive vaccinations on a set schedule so that by age two, children will be protected against 15 different diseases. Many of these diseases can cause life-long health issues or be deadly to young children, including polio, hepatitis B, the measles and influenza.
The role of childhood immunizations
While infants are born with immunity to some diseases and can get antibodies through breastmilk, this protection is not enough. The immune system of babies and young children is not strong enough to fight off diseases – which is why many doctors may advise limiting the exposure of newborns to new germs for the first several months. It’s also why immunizations are so important.
The immunity gained from the recommended series of infant and childhood vaccinations is strong enough to last for years. They also help provide a level of immunity across the broader population – called herd immunity – which helps protect the community at large from disease. For example, widespread acceptance of the polio vaccinein the 1960s led to the elimination of a disease that was debilitating for thousands of children in the U.S.
Experts have determined the timing and spacing of vaccines that work best with a child’s immune system. For some diseases, children need additional doses at designated intervals to allow the vaccines to work most effectively.
Recommended immunizations for children ages 0-2 years
Every year, a team of top experts from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices work collaboratively with other organizations on the recommended vaccine schedule. The recommendation is then approved by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
This is the current recommended schedule of vaccinations for children ages 0 to 2 years of age:
- Birth: Hepatitis B (HepB)
- 1-2 months: HepB
- 2 months: Rotavirus (RV); diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus (DTaP); Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib); pneumococcal disease (PCV); polio (IPV)
- 4 months: RV, DTaP, Hib, PCV, IPV
- 6 months: RV, DTaP, Hib, PCV
- 6-18 months: HepB, IPV
- 6 months and up: Influenza (one or two doses yearly), COVID-19
- 12-23 months: Hepatitis A (HepA – two doses at least six months apart)
- 12-15 months: Hib, PCV; measles, mumps and rubella (MMR); chickenpox (varicella)
- 15-18 months: DTap
While this list may seem long, extensive research has been conducted on these vaccines to ensure they are safe for infants and young children. Part of a child’s growth and development means they will naturally be exposed to germs every day as they explore the world around them. Vaccines help build a child’s immunity in a way that will protect the child for years to come.
If a shot is missed that’s recommended for a child’s age group, talk to their doctor as soon as possible to see when the missed dose can be given.
If a child has any medical conditions that put them at risk for infection, like sickle cell disease, HIV or cochlear implants, or is traveling outside of the U.S., talk to their doctor about any additional vaccines that may be needed.
While some parents may be interested in delaying some childhood vaccines, there is no proven benefit for following an alternative or delayed vaccine schedule. Any delays in vaccinating a child may mean they are unprotected against a disease for a longer period of time.
However, there may be times when doctors would advise some children should wait to get a vaccine, or times when they should not get a vaccine. For instance, if a child has had an allergic reaction to a prior dose of vaccine, or if they have any severe allergies, their doctor may recommend foregoing or delaying a vaccine. Additionally, if a child is moderately or severely ill, their doctor may also advise delaying a vaccine.
Each vaccine has specific guidance on how it can be delayed or skipped. This is why it’s so important to discuss questions, concerns or issues with the child’s doctor – and to keep up with well-child visits. Doctors are experts in the nuances to each vaccine, and can advise on what is best for a child based on their medical and immunization history to ensure the child has the best health outlook possible – now and in the future.
Angela Seabright, D.O., is a care management physician at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.