The Basics: Overview

Vaccines (also called shots or immunizations) help protect children from serious diseases. Getting your child vaccinated also protects other people in your community who may not be able to get vaccines.

Vaccines work best when children get them at certain ages. Making sure your child gets vaccinated on schedule helps keep them healthy.

It’s important for your child to get all recommended vaccines.

Getting all recommended vaccines will help protect your child from diseases that can be dangerous or even deadly, including:

  • Measles
  • Whooping cough (pertussis)
  • Chickenpox
  • Hepatitis A and B

Many vaccines require more than 1 dose. For the best protection, your child needs to get every recommended dose of each vaccine. If your child misses a dose, they may not be protected.

It’s important for every child to get vaccinated.

Thanks to vaccines, 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 get sick themselves — or spread those germs to other people.

When does my child need these vaccines?

Children need to get different vaccines at different ages. Doctors follow a schedule for vaccines that begins at birth.

Ask the doctor for a list of the vaccines your child has gotten. Keep the list in a safe place — you’ll need it for school and other activities. Kids who aren’t up to date on their vaccines may not be allowed to go to certain schools. 

The Basics: Safety and Side Effects

Are there any side effects from these vaccines?

Side effects from vaccines are usually mild and go away after a few days. The most common side effect is pain or redness where the vaccine was given. Some children don’t have any side effects at all.

Vaccines are very safe.

Vaccines go through a careful testing process before doctors start giving them to people. Also, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continue to track vaccines to make sure they’re safe. The chance that a vaccine will cause a serious problem is very small.

Vaccines don’t cause autism.

Autism is a brain disorder that can cause social, communication, and behavioral issues. For example, kids with autism may have trouble talking and connecting with other people.

Some people have worried that autism could be linked to childhood vaccines. But many studies have shown that vaccines don’t cause autism.

To learn more about kids and vaccines, read these answers to common questions.

Take Action: See a Doctor

Protect your child from serious diseases by making sure they get all recommended vaccines.

Find out which vaccines your child needs.

Talk to your child’s doctor about vaccines. Be sure your child gets:

  • Any vaccines recommended for their age — learn more about which vaccines your child may still need
  • A seasonal flu vaccine — everyone age 6 months and older needs to get the seasonal flu vaccine every year
  • An updated COVID-19 vaccine — people age 6 months and older also need to get vaccinated for COVID

Some babies also need to get an RSV shot, depending on the time of year they were born and if their mother got an RSV vaccine during pregnancy. RSV shots for babies aren’t vaccines — but like vaccines, they help keep babies from getting sick. Ask your baby’s doctor if they need an RSV shot, and learn more about protecting your baby from RSV.

You can usually get flu and COVID vaccines and RSV shots at a health clinic, a pharmacy, or your local health department. If you’re not sure where to start, call your child’s doctor or your local health department. 

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 had a bad reaction to a vaccine in the past, tell the doctor before your child gets a vaccine.

Pay extra attention to your child for a few days after they get a vaccine. 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 vaccines for kids. Depending on your insurance plan, you may be able to get your child’s vaccines at no cost to you. Check with your insurance company to find out what’s included in your plan.

Your child may also qualify for free or low-cost health insurance through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Learn more about coverage options for your family.

If you don’t have insurance, you can still get your child’s vaccines:

To learn more, check out these resources:

Take Action: Make Vaccines Less Stressful

Help make the vaccine visit easier for your child.

To help your child during their vaccine visit, you can:

  • Stay calm
  • Ask the doctor or nurse for tips on how to hold a young child during the shot
  • Distract your child during the vaccine — like telling a joke, singing a song, or pointing to a picture on the wall
  • Praise your child after the vaccine is over

Get more tips on making vaccines less stressful for you and your child.