Early Childhood Vaccines

Vaccines help babies fight diseases before their immune systems are strong enough to battle them. The benefits of vaccines outweigh the possible side effects for almost all children.

Vaccines also protect people not vaccinated, creating what is known as herd immunity. Vaccines have eliminated some diseases entirely, and others are at very low rates today.

Immune system

Vaccines help your child’s immune system fight disease. They contain dead or weakened versions of bacteria or viruses that trigger your child’s immune response without causing infection. Your child gets vaccines by injection (shots) or nasal spray.

Your baby’s immune system is already exposed to countless germs from breathing, eating and playing. It responds by producing thousands of antibodies to kill invading bacteria and viruses. Some of these antibodies develop memory cells that can quickly and effectively fight the same infection again in the future.

Vaccines protect children against diseases that can be dangerous or even life-threatening. Research shows that kids have a better chance of protecting themselves against these diseases by getting vaccines on schedule, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics. The standard immunization schedule has been carefully designed to ensure that kids get the most protection possible from vaccines. This schedule also reflects the fact that babies have different immune systems, and some vaccines require more than one dose to produce the best protection.


Vaccines work by stimulating the immune system. They contain dead or weakened bacteria or viruses that don’t cause disease, along with important proteins that help trigger the immune response.

A vaccine’s effectiveness is based on your child’s natural immunity, which can happen from either active or passive immunization. Passive immunization happens when a full-term baby receives antibodies from its mother’s blood during the final months of pregnancy or when it is given as an injection shortly after birth. Active immunity develops from exposure to a live or weakened germ, and it usually takes longer to produce.

Many vaccines are available as liquid shots or drops, and some are even delivered under the skin. Most vaccine side effects are mild, and most disappear on their own in a matter of days. For example, some babies cry and are upset right after a vaccination, but this is normal. You can help reduce the pain of a vaccination by giving your child sugar water (with a teaspoon or pacifier) just before the needle, and offering distractions or physical comfort, such as cuddling or breastfeeding, during the injection.

Alternative immunization schedules

Many parents have a hard time keeping up with the current vaccination schedule. They might worry that too many shots will overwhelm a baby’s immune system, or that ingredients in some vaccines are harmful. They may even decide to skip some vaccines. Those who choose to use an alternative vaccine schedule may find that it causes more problems than it solves.

The current vaccine schedule has years of brain power and research behind it. It’s designed to work best for children at specific ages. It’s not a made-up plan, like some of the alternative ones that some doctors and parents come up with.

It’s important for parents to follow the recommended vaccine schedule. Vaccines protect against diseases that used to make children very sick, disabled, or even dead. They also prevent illness in others. It’s not worth the risk to delay or skip vaccines.

Vaccine reactions

All medicines can cause side effects, but most vaccine reactions are minor and go away on their own. They may include pain, a low-grade fever, fussiness and redness or swelling where the shot was given. These are normal signs that the body’s immune system is reacting to the vaccine.

It’s also possible to have a life-threatening allergic reaction, called anaphylaxis, after getting a vaccine. This occurs in about 1 in 1.3 million vaccinations. That’s why health care providers ask patients to stay at the clinic for 15 minutes after they get a shot and have them watch for any signs of trouble. They also have emergency epinephrine kits on hand in case of a reaction. Anaphylaxis can occur anywhere in the body, not just at the injection site.

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