Follow This Vaccine Schedule to Protect Yourself (and Your Kids) at Every Age

While you'll get most of your vaccinations in early childhood, you'll need immunizations (such as the flu shot) in adulthood, too.
Image Credit: FG Trade/E+/GettyImages

We're all fixated on a COVID-19 vaccine to control the pandemic shaking the world. But remember that there are more than a dozen of other vaccines already out there that can protect both children and adults from a long list of worrisome illnesses.

If you're not already, get familiar with the vaccines that can save lives — and when you need them — in our guide to vaccinations.

Advertisement

Get tips on how to stay healthy, safe and sane during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Why Vaccines Are Important

"The reason we give vaccines is to prevent illnesses that can kill people and cause them considerable harm or other problems," says Sandra Kemmerly, MD, system medical director of hospital quality at Ochsner Health in New Orleans.

Thanks to vaccines, diseases like smallpox and polio have virtually been eradicated. For example, in 1921, before a vaccine was developed, more than 15,000 Americans died from diphtheria. But in the decade between 2004 and 2014, only two cases were reported, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Advertisement

"Those vaccines have saved countless lives," Dr. Kemmerly says. Vaccines can now also reduce the effects of some "adult" diseases, like pneumonia and shingles.

Unfortunately, even diseases that are now very rare due to vaccines haven't completely disappeared and, in areas where vaccine rates are declining, outbreaks still occur, per the CDC.

How Effective Are Vaccines?

This depends on the particular vaccine. No vaccine is 100 percent effective, but most childhood vaccines are between 85 and 95 percent effective, according to the World Health Organization.

Advertisement

For the flu vaccine, on the other hand, rates usually hover between 40 percent and 60 percent. For the 2019 to 2020 flu season, the vaccine was 45 percent effective, per CDC estimates.

Because many illnesses don't mutate, one or a series of shots early in life can provide protection for most of your life. For example, you'll complete all the shots needed for polio immunization by around age 6, and then won't need an update later in life.

But you have to get the flu vaccine every year. That's because "the flu virus replicates faster than almost any other virus on earth," says LaTasha Perkins, MD, family physician and assistant professor at Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

Advertisement

"Vaccines are a selfless act."

How Vaccines Work

There are four main types of vaccines, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), but they all work in roughly the same way.

"Your body gets exposed [to an organism] and studies it and learns how to mount a response to it," Dr. Perkins explains. "When it comes come into contact with the full virus [or other germ], it knows how to fight it off or at least you don't express the illness." That's because vaccines prompt your body to create cells that know how to fight the full virus, should you encounter it in the future.

Depending on the vaccine, you may need more than one shot, called a series. That's because, with certain vaccines, each successive dose adds more immunity until your body gets up to speed, Dr. Perkins says. It's not worth delaying any vaccines because your child could get sick with the very illness that vaccine is supposed to prevent between doses.

In some cases, a single vaccine will protect against several diseases. The MMR vaccine, which inoculates against measles, mumps and rubella, is one example. Rather than requiring six shots for individual diseases, the MMR vaccine only requires two, Dr. Kemmerly says. "This decreases the actual number of sticks." That's something babies and children are bound to appreciate.

Are Vaccines Safe?

While nothing in this world is 100 percent safe (even too much water has a downside), vaccines usually don't cause anything more than pain and redness around the injection site. This is true even if you are getting multiple vaccines in one shot. And, importantly, stresses Dr. Kemmerly, there's no evidence whatsoever that vaccines cause autism.

Candidate vaccines go through a rigorous vetting process and often take years to reach the market.

People who have weakened immune systems — whether due to chemotherapy, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis or another condition — should talk to their doctor before getting certain vaccines.

"Someone who's immunocompromised shouldn't just show up at [a pharmacy] and get a vaccine," Dr. Perkins says. "Make an appointment with your family doctor and talk to them about the pros and cons of each vaccine. It's extremely important."

What if You're Pregnant?

You can and should still get vaccines. In fact, the annual flu shot is especially important because pregnant people have a higher risk of flu complications, Dr. Kemmerly says. Vaccinations during this time will also help protect your baby, according to the CDC.

One caution: Pregnant people should not get live virus vaccines even though these are weakened viruses, per the CDC. During your pregnancy, it's always a good idea to talk to your doctor before getting any vaccines or taking any medication.

Getting Vaccinated During the Age of COVID-19

Vaccination rates have dropped during the novel coronavirus pandemic. For instance, childhood vaccinations in Michigan dropped from two-thirds of 5-month-old babies between 2016 and 2019, to less than half in May of 2020, according to a May 2020 report from the CDC.

Don't let COVID-19 prevent you from getting necessary vaccines — after all, you wouldn't want to get COVID-19 and shingles or measles, nor would you want that for your children.

"Don't skip vaccines," Dr. Kemmerly says. "If your child hasn't been vaccinated, it puts them at incredible risk."

The advice extends to the flu shot as well, for both kids and adults.

"I'm urging everyone to get the flu vaccine early," Dr. Kemmerly says. "Even though it's not 100 percent perfect it's better than nothing, and COVID-19 is going to be here at the same time. People who have been reluctant in the past should be first in line."

Doctors are taking precautions to make sure clinics and offices are safe from COVID-19. "Trust that we are putting in the work so that when you come into the office you will be safe," Dr. Perkins says, pointing out that Georgetown University student health has safely been providing preventive care all summer.

Related Reading

The Vaccine Schedule

There's no two ways about it: The vaccine schedule can feel a little overwhelming. Fortunately, you don't have to figure it out alone. Your pediatrician or family physician's office will help you keep track and electronic health records have made things a lot easier. Some statewide vaccination programs also track who got which vaccine when.

Here, via the CDC and Nemours Foundation, is the recommended vaccine schedule from birth to adulthood.

0 to 24 Months

The lion's share of vaccines are given in early childhood to make sure a little one is protected before any potential exposure. Babies are protected for a while by their mother's antibodies, but "that immunity wanes with passing of time, so vaccinations are critical," Dr. Kemmerly says.

Birth

  • Hepatitis B protects you against a virus that can cause liver disease. The first dose is usually given before a baby leaves the hospital, Dr. Kemmerly says, but you can get it at any age, per the Nemours Foundation.

1 to 2 Months

  • Hepatitis B, second dose

2 Months

  • First dose of five for DTaP, which stands for diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis (whooping cough), per the Nemours Foundation.
  • First of three to four doses for HiB (Haemophilus influenzae type b), per the CDC.
  • First of four doses of IPV, or inactivated poliovirus vaccine, per to the CDC.
  • First of three doses of PCV or pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, which protects against pneumococcal bacteria, per the CDC.
  • First of 2 doses of RV or rotavirus vaccine, per the CDC.

4 Months

  • Second dose of DTaP
  • Second dose of Hib
  • Second dose of IPV
  • Second dose of PCV
  • Second dose of RV

6 Months

  • Third dose of DTaP
  • Third dose of Hib
  • Third dose of PCV
  • Third dose of RV (if needed — sometimes only two doses are given)
  • Influenza vaccine. After six months, this vaccination should be given annually.

6 to 18 Months

  • Second dose of Hepatitis B
  • Third dose of IPV
  • Second dose of influenza vaccine. (The first time any child under 9 gets the flu vaccine, they will be given two doses at least a month apart. After that, it should be given annually.)

12 to 15 Months

  • Fourth dose of Hib
  • First dose of MMR
  • Fourth dose of PCV
  • Varicella (chickenpox)

12 to 23 Months

  • Hepatitis A. Two shots are needed at least six months apart.

15 to 18 Months

  • Fourth dose of DTaP

School-Aged Children

4 to 6 Years

  • Fifth (final) dose of DTaP
  • Second dose of MMR
  • Fourth dose of IPV
  • Second dose of chickenpox

11 to 12 Years

  • HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine. This vaccine is given in two shots over a 6- to 12-month period, with the first shot given as early as age 9. For teens and young adults ages 15 to 26, it is given in 3 shots over 6 months. It's recommended for everyone to prevent genital warts and some types of cancer.
  • First dose of meningococcal conjugate vaccine

16 to 18 Years

  • Booster shot for meningococcal vaccine should be given at age 16.
  • Meningococcal B vaccine. This can be given in two or three doses.

Adults

If you didn't get all your childhood vaccinations, check with your doctor to see if you should still get any of them. Also, the effectiveness of some vaccines declines over time. Some vaccines are meant specifically for adults.

You'll need to continue getting your flu vaccine annually in adulthood, since the flu virus changes from year to year.

After 18

  • Tetanus shot updates every 10 years
  • Hepatitis B update (if needed)
  • HPV if you didn't get it earlier. It's now been approved for adults up to the age of 45, Dr. Perkins says.

After 50

  • Shingles vaccine (herpes zoster) at age 50
  • Pneumococcal vaccine at age 50

By getting vaccinated, you protect not just yourself, but your family and whole community as well. "Vaccines are a selfless act," Dr. Perkins says. "You get five gold stars for doing it."

Concerned About COVID-19?

Advertisement

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911. If you think you may have COVID-19, use the CDC’s Coronavirus Self-Checker.
references