The Basics: Overview
Shots (also called vaccines or immunizations) help protect children from serious diseases. Vaccines can save your child's life.
Getting all the shots recommended by age 2 will help protect your child from diseases that can be dangerous or even deadly, including:
- Whooping cough (pertussis)
- Hepatitis A and B
It’s important for your child to get all recommended shots.
Each vaccine protects your child from different diseases. And each vaccine usually requires more than one dose. For the best protection, your child needs every dose of each vaccine. If your child misses a shot, she may not be protected.
It's important for every child to get shots.
Thanks to shots, many serious childhood diseases that used to be common are now rare. But the bacteria and viruses (germs) that cause these diseases are still around. Each child who isn't vaccinated can spread those germs to other children.
The Basics: Recommended Shots
When does my child need shots?
Shots work best when children get them at certain ages. Doctors follow a schedule of shots that begins at birth.
- If your child is age 6 or younger, find out which shots your child still needs.
- If your child has missed getting some shots, talk to the doctor about “catch-up” shots.
- Doctors recommend that pre-teens ages 11 and 12 get important shots, too. Find out more about shots for pre-teens.
Ask the doctor for a list of the shots your child has gotten. Keep the list in a safe place – you'll need it for school and other activities. Kids who don't get all their shots may not be allowed to go to certain schools.
Learn more about some of the recommended shots for kids:
The Basics: The Basics: Safety and Side Effects
Are there any side effects from shots?
Side effects from shots are usually mild and only last a short time. The most common side effect is pain or redness where the shot was given. Some children have no side effects at all. Ask the doctor what to expect after your child’s shots.
Shots are very safe.
Vaccines are tested for years before doctors start giving them to people. Also, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) check vaccines every year to make sure they're safe. The chance that a vaccine will cause a serious problem is very small.
Shots don’t cause autism.
Research shows that shots don’t cause autism. Autism is a disorder of the brain. Kids with autism have trouble talking and connecting with other people.
Some parents of children with autism notice the first signs of autism at the same age their children get certain shots. They may think these things are connected, but research shows there's no link between vaccines and autism.
To learn more, read these answers to common questions about children and vaccines.
Take Action: See a Doctor
Protect your child from serious childhood diseases by making sure he gets all recommended shots.
Find out which shots your child needs.
Check with your doctor to make sure your child is getting all the recommended shots. If your child is age 6 or younger, use this tool to find out which shots your child still needs.
Get your child a seasonal flu shot every year.
Everyone age 6 months and older needs to get the seasonal flu vaccine every year.
You may not even need to make an appointment to get your child the yearly flu shot. You can get a flu shot at a health clinic, pharmacy, or your local health department. Use this vaccine locator to find out where you can get the flu vaccine near you.
Tell the doctor about bad reactions.
Serious side effects after getting a vaccine – like a severe allergic reaction – are very rare. If your child or another family member has ever had a bad reaction to a vaccine in the past, tell the doctor before your child gets a shot.
Pay extra attention to your child for a few days after she gets a shot. If you see something that worries you, call your child’s doctor.
Take Action: Cost and Insurance
What about cost?
Under the Affordable Care Act, insurance plans must cover recommended shots for kids. This means you may be able to get your child’s shots at no cost to you.
Check with your insurance provider to find out what’s included in your plan. For information about other services for children that are covered by the Affordable Care Act, visit HealthCare.gov.
If you don’t have health insurance, your child can still get shots.
Take Action: Make Shots Less Stressful
Help make shots easier for your child.
- Stay calm.
- Ask the doctor or nurse for tips on how to hold your child during the shot.
- Distract your child during the shot. For example, tell a joke, sing a song, or point to a picture on the wall.
- Praise your child after the shot is over.
Content last updated January 31, 2020
This information on childhood immunizations is adapted from materials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration.
Jennifer Mullen, MPH
Health Communication Specialist
National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, Office of the Director
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention