When and Why Infants and Children Should Receive Vaccinations

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Parents often have questions about vaccinations and immunizations for their infants and children. Some are concerned about the frequency of vaccinations or the number of standard vaccines in the current schedule, but there are important reasons physicians recommend vaccines at certain ages.

VACCINE STANDARDS FOR INFANTS

“Towards the end of pregnancy, mothers provide their growing babies immune protection through transferring antibodies - which are immune proteins the body makes to bind and clear infecting viruses and bacteria. This snapshot of the mother’s immune system memory, called passive immunity, helps to protect the infant the first months of life, as does breastfeeding where antibodies in the milk coat the baby’s mouth and intestinal tract,” said Graham Krasan, M.D., pediatric infectious disease physician at Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak.

Dr. Krasan added, "These protective antibodies the baby receives in the womb largely disappears during the infant’s first months of life."

After those first few months, the baby will need to depend on his or her own immune system, which often cannot effectively protect against the causes of infection.

Early vaccination is critical to activate the infant’s own immune system for self-protection at a time where the mother’s antibodies are disappearing.

Dr. Krasan added that with advances in vaccine technology the number of antigens, specific proteins included in each vaccine, is far less than what was given historically.

ADDITIONAL VACCINES

“In addition to the standard childhood and adult immunization schedule, we need to realize that further vaccination may be necessary either in an outbreak situation, such as the recent Mumps outbreak, or during international travel. You should consult your care provider to determine if these additional vaccines are necessary,” Dr. Krasan said.

An annual flu shot is another important vaccination that protects children against infection. Each year, the flu causes significant illness, especially in infants and those with weakened immune systems. Early vaccination of infants, as well as immunizing their caregivers, is the most effective way to protect them.

In addition to the standard childhood and adult immunization schedule, we need to realize that further vaccination may be necessary either in an outbreak situation or during international travel.

Dr. Krasan

“Influenza vaccine of infants should begin at 6 months of age, as early in the season as the vaccine is available. Two doses are needed the first year the infant is vaccinated. It is important to note that current influenza vaccines are composed of just two influenza proteins and cannot produce either an influenza infection or cause influenza illness,” Dr. Krasan said.

Adults who care for and siblings of young and/or immunocompromised children should also have standard vaccinations.

“There was previous concern regarding live attenuated influenza vaccine, which is not on the market,” Dr. Krasan added. “The other common live viral vaccines, MMR and varicella vaccine, can be safety give to caregivers/siblings of immunocompromised patients.”

Dr. Krasan also noted that pregnant women in their third trimester should receive the TdaP vaccine in the third trimester to provide passive immunity to infants who are at risk for complications of pertussis.

RECOMMENDED VACCINATIONS FOR INFANTS AND CHILDREN

Infants (minimum recommended age for beginning each vaccination)

  • Hepatitis B – birth
  • Rotavirus – 6 weeks
  • Diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis – 6 weeks
  • Haemophilus influenza type b – 6 weeks
  • Pneumococcal – 6 weeks
  • Inactivated poliovirus – 6 weeks
  • Measles, mumps and rubella – 12 months
  • Varicella – 12 months
  • Hepatitis A – 12 months
  • Meningococcal combination vaccine – 6 weeks

Children ages 7 through 18 years

  • Tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis – 7 years
  • Human papillomavirus – 9 years
  • Meningococcal vaccines (two complementary vaccines are available that protect against different types of meningococcus)
    • Meningococcus serotype B vaccine – 10 years
    • Meningococcal combination vaccine (serotype A, C, Y, W135)