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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Which vaccinations does my child need, and when?

Getting your child vaccinated is very important. In the first 2 years of life, babies need protection against 11 potentially life-threatening diseases, such as polio and measles. For information about which vaccines are needed, and when they should be given, please review the Vaccination Schedule.

Which vaccinations are recommended for adolescents?

Preventive health care is just as important for adolescents as it is for infants and young children. While most recommended vaccines are given at a very young age, some vaccines are recommended for older children and adolescents. In addition to a tetanus booster at age 11-12 years (and every 10 years after), some adolescents may need to catch up on missed vaccines. Also, some vaccines, such as influenza and hepatitis A, are recommended for certain adolescents, and are newly recommended for younger adolescents and college-bound teens. College-bound teens and their parents should be aware of the risk of meningococcal disease and consider vaccination. For a complete schedule of recommended vaccinations for adolescents, please review the Vaccination Schedule.

Do adults ever need vaccinations?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a routine tetanus booster every 10 years for all people 19 years of age and older. People 50 years of age and older should receive the influenza vaccine every year. People 65 years of age and older should be vaccinated for pneumococcal disease. Also, some adults may need to catch up on missed or incomplete childhood vaccinations. Various other vaccines are recommended for people in certain age groups or for those who have particular risks. Adults planning to travel to countries where certain diseases are prevalent may need additional travel vaccinations. For more information about recommended adult vaccinations, please review the Vaccination Schedule.

Are vaccines safe?

Vaccines undergo years of testing before they are approved for use, and they continue to be monitored after approval. While no medication is 100% safe, serious side effects are rare. When side effects do occur, they are generally mild and may include fever and soreness at the vaccination site. The important thing to remember is that the benefits of vaccination are much greater than the risks of not vaccinating. Before vaccines were developed, thousands of babies and children suffered from life-threatening diseases each year; today, thanks to vaccines, millions of children are protected from these diseases. For more information see Vaccine Safety.

Is it okay for a child to have several vaccinations at the same time?

Some people are concerned that giving babies or small children several vaccines at once may overload their immune system. No evidence supports this belief. In fact, studies have shown that giving a child multiple vaccinations for different diseases at the same time is safe and effective, with no increased risk of side effects.

Do vaccines weaken the immune system or put too much stress on an infant’s immune system?

Babies are exposed to disease-causing bacteria and viruses every day starting at birth; the immune system is constantly being challenged. Vaccines, instead of weakening or stressing the immune system, provide a safe way of boosting immunity by prompting the body to produce antibodies (protection) against various diseases. When immunity is acquired through a vaccine rather than by catching the disease, the possibility of serious illness or death is virtually eliminated. There is no evidence to suggest that multiple injections during one office visit “overload” the immune system.

Isn’t it better to get immunity by catching a disease instead of by being vaccinated?

No. Vaccination is a much safer way of acquiring immunity to a disease. While catching a disease will generally give you immunity in the future, you run the risk of becoming severely ill or even dying. Vaccinations, on the other hand, provide immunity without the person’s having to experience the serious effects of the diseases.

Immunization Vaccine Safety

How can I know that vaccines are safe?

Experts who monitor the use of vaccines agree that today’s vaccine supply in the United States (US) is the safest and most effective in history. All vaccines undergo years of testing before they are approved for use. Once they become available, vaccines are continually checked for safety and effectiveness. Any problems that arise can be reported to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), which reviews the problems and further investigates those determined to be vaccine-related. Appropriate actions may be taken, up to and including withdrawing the vaccine from use.

Like any medication, no vaccine is 100% safe; however, most people experience no side effects after vaccination. If side effects do occur, they are usually mild. Typical mild side effects are soreness, swelling, or redness at the spot where the injection was given, or mild fever. Severe side effects, including severe allergic reactions, are extremely rare.

Benefits outweigh risks

The most important thing to remember is that the benefits of immunization are much greater than any possible risks. Vaccines protect us from many serious diseases. Thanks to vaccines, most people in the US have never seen a case of polio, measles, or diphtheria. But before vaccines were available, these and other diseases caused widespread illness, complications, and death.

Before a vaccine was available for measles, half a million cases occurred in an average year; polio crippled thousands of children and adults; and rubella, or German measles, caused hundreds of babies to be born with deafness, mental retardation, or other defects.

Vaccines have been so successful, in fact, that people hear more today about possible side effects from vaccines than the very real dangers of the diseases themselves.

Immune overload

Babies are exposed to a large number of bacteria and viruses in the environment from the moment they are born. Experts describe vaccines given during the first 2 years of a child’s life as “a raindrop in the ocean of what infants’ immune systems successfully encounter in their environment every day.”*

These and other concerns about vaccines continue to be publicized on the Internet and in other media. Some statements link vaccines to specific diseases in children, such as autism, diabetes, and asthma. However, the evidence is overwhelming that vaccination outweighs the risks.

In the rare event of a serious side effect occurring after vaccination, parents can apply for compensation through the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.

As with any vaccine, vaccination may not protect 100% of individuals.