Which Vaccines Are Essential??>

Which Vaccines Are Essential?

by Amanda Z. Naprawa  

Are you overwhelmed, at times, with understanding the "whys" and "whens" of the recommended vaccine schedule? It is no surprise if you are. There are a lot of vaccines to remember, and it can certainly be hard for anyone to keep track of it all. Here we provide the "when" and "why" for the recommended vaccine schedule to help you understand which vaccinations are recommended for you and your family.

Infants and Young Children (0-6yrs)

Hepatitis B: Protects against chronic inflammation of the liver and its lifelong consequences.

When: At birth; 1-2 months; 6-15 months (three total doses)

Why: Hepatitis B is not just a sexually transmitted disease. It can be transmitted through blood and bodily fluids. Nearly 1.25 million Americans are infected annually and 30-40 percent of chronic infections were acquired in childhood. Vaccination shortly after birth protects against accidental infection from an unwitting mother, and will offer your child protection against liver disease as an adult (which can be fatal).

DTaP: Protects against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (whooping cough).

When: 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15-18 months, 4-6 years (five total doses)

Why: Diphtheria is a bacterial infection that causes a thick coating on the throat that can lead to breathing and heart problems, paralysis, pneumonia and even death. Tetanus causes painful muscle contractions, including "lockjaw" in which the patient cannot open the mouth or swallow. It is fatal nearly 20 percent of the time. Pertussis causes intense coughing, making it difficult for the patient to eat, drink or breathe. The disease has been on the rise in the United States in large part due to unvaccinated individuals.

Hib: Protects against H. Influenza Type B.

When: 2 months; 4 mos.; 6 months;12-15 months (four total doses)

Why: This serious bacterial disease most commonly affects children ages 5 and under. It can cause a dangerous infection of the throat (epiglottitis) and, if it spreads to the lungs or bloodstream, can be very serious. Prior to routine vaccination, Hib was the leading cause of bacterial meningitis in American children under age 5. It would also cause pneumonia and death. In fact, before the vaccine about 600-1200 children under age 5 died from Hib annually.

Polio: Protects against poliomyelitis and complications such as paralysis.

When: 2 months; 4 months; 6-18 months; 4-6 years (four total doses)

Why: Polio used to be one of the most feared diseases in our country. Because of the vaccine, however, polio has not naturally occurred in the United States since 1979. Unfortunately, polio continues to be a serious problem in some places around the world, and the only way to keep the population protected is through vaccination.

Pneumococcal Conjugate: Protects against pneumococcus disease.

When: 2 months; 4 months; 6 months; 12-15 months (four total doses)

Why: The bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae causes many diseases, some of which are very serious, including pneumonia, meningitis and blood stream infections (bacteremia). Roughly one of every 10 children under age 5 who develop pneumococcal meningitis die from the disease. Other complications include deafness, brain damage or loss of arms or legs.

Rotovirus vaccines: Protects against Rotovirus.

When: 2 months; 4 months; 6 months (three total doses)

Why: Rotovirus is very common among young children. It causes vomiting and diarrhea that may lead to dehydration and the need for hospitalization. The vast majority of children who are vaccinated by one of two vaccines against the disease are protected. It is given to very young infants because the vaccine is most effective if the first dose is given before 15 weeks of age.

MMR: Protects against measles, mumps, and rubella and serious complications.

When: 12-15 months; 4-6 years (2 total doses)

Why: Sadly, measles had been declared eliminated from the U.S. in 2000 but it has made quite a resurgence in recent years (in large part due to unvaccinated individuals). Measles is not a benign childhood disease -- it can cause hearing loss, pneumonia, swelling of the brain and death. Mumps is a disease that causes significant swelling of the glands near the jaw line. Though complications are rare, it can lead to inflammation of the testes in young boys, as well as encephalitis, meningitis and deafness. Rubella (German measles) is usually a mild disease, but for pregnant women it can be very serious, causing miscarriage, stillbirth or severe birth defects.

Varicella (Chickenpox): Protects against chickenpox.

When: 12-15 months; 4-6 years (2 total doses)

Why: Many parents think the chickenpox vaccine is unnecessary because so many adults had it as children and view it as a benign (if annoying) disease. In reality, the disease can lead to serious complications, including pneumonia, meningitis, encephalitis and bacterial infections of the skin lesions that can require hospitalization. Why put your child at risk?

Influenza: Protects against Influenza.

When: Annually starting at or after age 6 months

Why: Children are more likely to get the flu and to have flu-related complications due to their immature immune systems. For this reason, getting your child vaccinated is key to preventing them from getting sick. While the flu may seem benign, it actually can have very serious complications – an average of 20,000 children are hospitalized due to the flu each year in the U.S. Even if the flu shot is not always perfect at preventing the disease in a given year, getting vaccinated will still lower your risk and can often make any illness your child does get much more mild.

Young Adolescents (9-12 years)

Tdap: Re-protects against Diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough).

When: 11-12 years; then repeat every 10 years

Why: Yes, your baby was protected against these diseases but as your child approaches adolescence, the early immunity begins to wear off. For this reason, a booster shot is given to re-protect your pre-teen from getting those same diseases for which the DTaP was given in infancy.

HPV: Protects against human papillomavirus.

When: 9-12 years (2 or 3 doses given roughly 3 months apart)

Why: To prevent cancer. Seriously. It is that simple. HPV is a very common virus, infecting one in four Americans, and it is an infection that can cause cervical, vaginal, vulvar, penile, anal and oral cancer. Each year, about 27,000 men and women are diagnosed with one of these cancers. The HPV vaccine could prevent almost all of these cases.

MCV4: Protects against meningococcal disease.

When: 11-12 years; booster at age 16

Why: Meningicoccal disease is the leading cause of bacterial meningitis in American children ages 2-18. Even with treatment, about 10-15 percent of patients die each year and of those who live about 11-19 percent lose their arms or legs, have central nervous system problems, become deaf or suffer seizures or strokes.

Influenza: Protects against Influenza.

When: Annually

Why: The CDC now recommends that everyone over age 6 months who can be vaccinated, should be vaccinated against the flu. Getting vaccinated can protect you against getting sick, it can protect against serious flu-related complications, and if you get vaccinated, you are doing your part to protect others around you who may be vulnerable to serious complications.


When it comes to adults, many vaccine recommendations depend on whether you had certain vaccinations as a child, or, have already been infected (and thus immunized) against that disease. It is important to speak with your doctor about your vaccination history. Find out whether you are at particular risk for any one disease. Then you and your doctor can make an informed decision about which vaccines or booster shots are right for you. Check the CDC’s recommended adult vaccine schedule for details about adult vaccines and boosters.

Originally published April 2015. Updated February 2017.