Baby’s Vaccines—and What They Mean

They may not be much fun for Baby, but for many parents and doctors vaccines are an essential part of keeping their little one healthy. If you are considering immunizations for your baby, find out exactly when your child should get them, as well as what each shots is for.

Hepatitis B

What it is: Hepatitis B is a virus which causes liver inflammation.

When the vaccine is given: Within the US, all babies should receive this vaccination within their first year. The first is usually given shortly after birth in the hospital, the second should be given between one and two months of age, and the third at six months.

If a combination vaccine is given (for example: Hep B/DTaP/IPV in one), then the third dose may be given at four months and a fourth at six months. Older adolescents may not have received this series beginning at birth and may need a catch-up series.

Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis

What it is: Diphtheria is a contagious bacterial disease that can lead to difficulty in breathing, pneumonia, heart failure, even paralysis and death.

Tetanus is a toxin mediated disease caused by the bacterium Clostridium tetani. These bacteria live mostly in dirt and gain entry into the body through skin wounds. They produce a bacterial toxin that attacks nerves, causing persistent contraction or spasms of the muscles. These painful muscle spasms cause “locking” of the jaw as well as problems with moving, breathing, eating, and drinking.

Pertussis is a highly contagious infection of the respiratory tract and lungs caused by Bordetella pertussis, also known as whooping cough. Pertussis produces a cough that is characteristic of the infection. Violent, repeated coughing is punctuated by a rapid gasp (whoop) of inspiration. Infants are particularly prone to severe infections. In them the infection can be severe enough to require a respirator and also affect the brain, leading to life-long impairment.

When the vaccine is given: This is a series of five shots given at two months, four months, six months, between 15 to 18 months, and again between four and six years old. The diphtheria and tetanus shots are given again between 11 and 12 years old, and between 13 and 18 years old.

Haemophilus Influenzae Type B (HiB)

What it is: Haemophilus Influenzae Type B (HiB) is a bacterium that can lead to meningitis and pneumonia. Almost all victims are children under the age of five, with those between four and 18 months of age especially vulnerable.

There are three different vaccine products to fight Hib on the market: HbOC, also called HibTITER; PRP-OMP, also referred to as PedvaxHIB or Comvax; and PRP-T, also called ActHIB or OmniHib. The Hib vaccine has markedly reduced the occurrence of serious and fatal Hib infections.

When the vaccine is given: Doses are needed at two and four months. A dose at six months is necessary if HbOC or PRP-T is used, but not with PRP-OMP. A final dose after 12 months of age is necessary for all.

Inactivated Poliovirus

What it is: Polio is caused by a virus that enters the body through the intestinal tract and can extend into the blood stream. From the blood, it enters, infects, and destroys the nerve cells of the spinal cord and brain stem (lower part of the brain). Paralysis and death can result.

When the vaccine is given: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends four doses given at two months, four months, and between six and nine months, and one at four years.

Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR)

What it is: Measles is a viral infection that produces a runny nose, cough, characteristic rash, and fever. Complications can include ear infections, pneumonia, diarrhea, convulsions, and brain damage. Measles is rare in the US, largely due to the vaccine.

Mumps is common viral infection causes fever, headache, and swollen glands under the neck. For many it is a mild infection, but for others, especially older youth and adults, it can be serious. It can lead to hearing loss, infection of the brain and the membranes surrounding it, and sterility in young adults.

Rubella (also known as German measles) is a viral infection with a rash that looks similar to that of measles. After the two to three week incubation period, a slight fever, swollen lymph glands, sore throat, aching bones, and a light rash develop. The rash begins on the face and spreads to the rest of the body.

Typically, the rubella infection is mild. Its significance resides in its ability to cause birth defects in women who are infected during pregnancy, especially in the first three months of pregnancy.

When the vaccine is given: Two shots are currently required, the first at one year and the second at four or five years.


What it is: Rotavirus is a common cause of childhood diarrhea, and a major cause of childhood mortality worldwide.

When the vaccine is given: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends including the rotavirus vaccine in the lineup of routine immunizations given to all infants. The recommendation calls for three doses by mouth at around two, four, and six months of age.

Pneumococcus vaccine

What it is: The pneumococcus (PCV) is one of the most common causes of serious bacterial infections in childhood. It is spread from person to person by respiratory droplets. It can cause a range of infections, including ear infections, sinusitis, pneumonia, conjunctivitis, meningitis and infections of the bloodstream. The number of serious infections in this country has fallen dramatically since the introduction of the PCV vaccine.

When the vaccine is given: This is a series of four vaccines, given at two, four, and six months and again between 12 and 15 months. The vaccine is recommended for all children under the age of two, but only for certain high-risk groups between the ages of two and five years.


What it is: The medical name for chicken pox, varicella is an acute, communicable, infectious disease, usually contracted by young children. Chicken pox is caused by the varicella virus.

The infection is characterized by a fever and itchy red spots. They usually appear on the chest and stomach first, then appear in crops over the entire body. The red spots turn into small blisters that dry up and form scabs over about a week. They occasionally cause scarring, particularly if scratched or if they become infected with bacteria. A varicella vaccine, available since 1995, has significantly reduced the number of cases of varicella in the US.

When the vaccine is given: The first dose is typically given between 15 and 18 months, and a second does is given between four and six years old.


What it is: Influenza, known more commonly as “the flu,” is caused by the influenza virus, which infects the respiratory tract (nose, throat, and lungs). Unlike many other viral respiratory infections, such as the common cold, the flu can cause severe illness and life threatening complications in many people.

When it is given: American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that the influenza vaccine be administered annually to children aged six to 59 months and to all close contacts of children from birth to 59 months. The vaccine should be administered annually to children five years of age and older with certain risk factors. Either one or two doses are necessary and must be four weeks apart, depending upon the child’s age and previous exposure to this vaccine. Children older than five years may get the injectable version or the nose spray (or “intranasal”) kind called FluMist. Babies and younger children should only receive the injectable form.

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