Many parents are overwhelmed by their kids’ vaccination schedule—especially during this period of pandemic fear. Your kids will receive many shots—for about 14 different illnesses—and now COVID-19 has joined that list. But now as most kids are back in school full-time and in-person, it is more important than ever to be diligent about their immunization schedules so they are as protected as possible.
How do vaccines work?
A vaccine is a dead or weakened version of the disease that helps build up antibodies to protect us from contracting the disease if exposed. Over the years, vaccines have generated some controversy, but there is no evidence that vaccines cause harm.
According to Marianne LaBarbera, MD, a board-certified family physician at Richmond University Medical Center (RUMC) in Staten Island, “The MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine has the most notoriety because of fears of autism. These are proven to be untrue, but these fears still persist.” She adds, “The fears that vaccines will cause the illnesses that they are supposed to protect against is also untrue.”
Although children may have a reaction to any vaccine—including soreness, swelling or fever—the benefits far outweigh the possible side effects.
What is the best vaccine schedule for children?
According to Dr. LaBarbera, who is Chief of Population Health at RUMC, most pediatricians follow the CDC immunization schedule and most kids’ vaccination schedules are completed between birth and 6 years of age. Many vaccines are given more than once, at different ages, and in different combinations. “If a child misses a dose for any reason, they should catch up as soon as possible,” Dr. LaBarbera says. “If they were sick, then as soon as they are well.”
The following is the CDC vaccine schedule—and most of these shots are given before the age of two:
- One vaccination for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR)
- Four vaccinations for Haemophilus influenza (Hib), a common upper respiratory infection that can also cause meningitis
- Three to four polio vaccinations (IPV)
- Four vaccinations for diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DPT)
- Three vaccinations for hepatitis B
- One vaccination for varicella (chickenpox) no earlier than age 12 months and only if your child does not develop chickenpox on his or her own
- Three vaccinations for rotavirus, a type of infection that causes severe diarrhea
- Four vaccinations for pneumococcal disease, a common cause of ear infections and pneumonia
From age four to six, your child will need booster shots for DPT, IPV, MMR, and chickenpox. Children should also start receiving a yearly flu shot after age six months. A vaccination for hepatitis A is recommended for all children.
Keeping Track of Kids’ Vaccine Schedules
Although your doctor’s office will keep track of these shots, it is a good idea for parents to maintain records as well. Ask your pediatrician for proof of your child’s immunizations or download a schedule and record form at the CDC website. It’s also a good idea to bring your child’s immunizations record with you to all office visits and make sure the doctor signs and dates every immunization.
“Parents should keep track, particularly when they get a vaccine from a provider other than their family doctor or pediatrician,” Dr. LaBarbera says, noting that people change doctors and records can get lost. In fact, studies show that about one-fourth of preschool children are missing at least one routine vaccination. It is important to know if your child has missed an immunization or received a shot that was not recorded.
In New York City, all vaccines that are administered are supposed to be reported to the Citywide Immunization Registry, which can be helpful if reports go missing. Also, ask your doctor’s office if they have an immunization schedule reminder or recall system that will remind you when inoculations are due and let you know if one has been missed.
Why are vaccines for children so important?
“Vaccines are our primary defense against diseases that are a threat to public health,” Dr. LaBarbera says. “These diseases should be prevented because they have no specific treatment, can result in debilitating complications, disability, and can even be life threatening to some.”
Vaccinations not only protect your child from deadly diseases—such as polio, tetanus, diphtheria, and now COVID-19—but they also keep other children safe by eliminating or greatly decreasing dangerous diseases that used to spread from child to child.
“It is and has always been important for kids to follow the age-appropriate schedule or catch-up on vaccinations that they are missing,” Dr. LaBarbera notes. “Now more than ever, it is important to stay healthy and protect against diseases that still exist that can cause illness, lasting complications and death, as well as be passed on to others who may not be protected.”
For more information, visit Richmond Health Network.
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