Most parents are familiar with the “childhood vaccination schedule” – a detailed plan for when children should get certain immunizations that help protect them from preventable diseases. But as the list of recommended vaccines has grown over the years, so too has the list of questions parents have about vaccinations and vaccination schedules.

You may wonder: What is an immunization schedule and why is it essential? How is the immunization schedule for young children and adolescents determined? Do I need to stick to it? Or, are there alternative vaccination schedules that I can follow for my child? And when are vaccinations not recommended for kids?

With the help of our immunization specialists, family medicine doctors, pediatricians and other team members, we help answer those questions and more – starting with the purpose of vaccines and why vaccinations are so important for kids.

Why are vaccines important?

Health officials and experts place so much importance on vaccination because it helps protect us and those around us from preventable diseases like tetanus, HPV, polio, measles, meningitis and whooping cough. How? By helping our bodies create immunity – which is the body’s way of preventing disease.

Why are vaccines important for children?

Vaccines are particularly important for children because young immune systems are more vulnerable to diseases and illnesses. If your child is exposed to a disease like measles for example, their immune system may not be strong enough to fight it off. And now that travel is easier and more common than ever, there’s an increased risk of exposure to diseases that are more prevalent outside of the United States.

How do vaccines protect us?

Vaccines are made with disease antigens, which trigger your child’s immune system to produce antibodies and develop immunity – without getting sick.

What is the purpose of vaccines and why do we have immunization schedules in the U.S.?

You may wonder why your child needs vaccinations beginning so soon after birth. That’s where immunization schedules come in.

Immunization schedules for young children and adolescents are designed with kids’ young immune systems in mind. The schedules – determined by top infectious disease experts and doctors – include 16 recommended vaccines, as well as dosages and timing from birth to 18 years old. By building children’s immunity to these diseases as early and safely as possible, vaccine schedules help prevent serious complications – as well as reduce the chance that kids catch these diseases in the first place.

Who created the vaccine schedule?

The first “harmonized” immunization schedule was released in the United States in 1995 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP).

Today, the ACIP meets three times a year to review the latest scientific research and make any necessary changes to the vaccination schedule. The CDC officially sets the schedule based on ACIP’s recommendations, and the schedule is also approved by the AAP, AAFP and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).

Why it’s important to follow childhood immunization schedules

Staying on schedule protects your child

The spacing and timing of vaccines is important because many vaccines require multiple doses that have to be spread out over a number of months or years. The recommended schedule is backed by scientific research and is set to work with a child’s immune system at specific ages and times. Vaccines not only prevent disease, they save lives.

While some parents wonder if the number of vaccines and doses kids receive can ever be too much for their bodies to handle, the short answer is: No. Extensive research has been done to ensure the safety of vaccines for young immune systems. Kids are exposed to germs (or antigens) every day. The amount that they’re exposed to by getting a vaccine is just a tiny fraction of the antigens they encounter daily.

Staying up to date on vaccines helps protects others

Vaccination helps to protect the health of our community – especially those who can’t be immunized, like children who are too young or those who can’t for medical reasons.

Following the vaccine schedule can save you money

When kids get sick, parents often have to dedicate time to looking after them. This can mean time away from work, which can mean a loss of income. And that’s before the additional cost of treatment if it’s a more serious case. In contrast, not only is vaccination safe, but it’s also usually covered by insurance.

Staying on schedule can be a requirement

Oftentimes, daycares, schools and sports teams require proof of immunizations in order for your child to participate. Keeping up with their shots can help make sure they don’t miss out. If you’re planning on taking your child in for a back-to-school physical exam, and it also keeps them on top of their health when it's time to go back to school. Or you can schedule a separate immunization-only appointment.

Are there alternative vaccination schedules?

Some parents wonder whether there are benefits to spacing out vaccines, or if following an alternative vaccination schedule is an option. Unfortunately, there isn’t any scientific basis for alternative or delayed vaccine schedules. But more importantly, delaying vaccines means kids are more vulnerable for extended periods of time.

Are there any reasons to delay vaccinations?

Parents often ask if there are any reasons to not vaccinate their child or to delay vaccination, and the answer is: Yes. There are times when some children should not get certain vaccines, or they should wait.

For example, if your child has any severe, life-threatening allergy or if they’ve had an allergic reaction after a previous dose of certain vaccines, your child’s doctor may recommend not getting or delaying a specific vaccination. Or if your child is moderately or severely ill, your child’s doctor will likely advise you to wait on vaccinations until they recover.

It’s also important to know that every vaccine has its own guidelines on when to forgo or delay a vaccination. So, if you have questions about whether your child should or shouldn’t have specific vaccines, we strongly encourage you to talk with your child’s doctor.

Don’t delay important childhood vaccinations

Vaccines are the most effective tool we have for preventing certain diseases – and vaccination schedules help make sure kids are protected at the right ages and right times. If you have any questions about vaccinating your child, talk to their doctor. They can talk with you about your child’s medical and immunization history, give you more information on specific vaccines and why they’re recommended, and listen to any concerns and answer any questions you may have.

If your child is due for their next round of shots or you need to get them caught up, make an appointment at your local HealthPartners or Park Nicollet clinic.