Routine childhood vaccines – Frequently Asked Questions
Answers to the most frequently asked questions on routine immunization
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Routine childhood vaccines are safe and effective. They have been rigorously tested and proven to prevent serious illness, saving millions of children’s lives every year. Routine vaccination offers long-lasting protection - so children can lead healthy and quality lives, without having the impact of a childhood spent battling preventable illnesses.
What are vaccines?
Vaccines protect us from serious and sometimes deadly diseases and help the body's natural defense system – the immune system – to stop them. Most vaccines are given during childhood to ensure protection in the early stages of life, when children are more vulnerable.
Stimulating the immune system by creating antibodies, vaccines prepare the body to recognize and fight so called microbes (specific viruses or bacteria). Since vaccines contain only dead or attenuated microbes, they do not cause disease and do not expose the child to risk of complications. Most vaccines are injectable, but some are also administered orally (through the mouth).
How do vaccines work?
Vaccines “mimic” the body's reaction when it is attacked by microbes, usually viruses or bacteria, without actually causing the disease. They contain dead (inactivated) or weakened (attenuated) forms of microbes that cause the body to activate its immune system and naturally produce antibodies that will fight the disease. Thus, the body will remember how to fight those microbes. If, in the future, the child encounters similar but living and strong microbes in a real infection, the immune system will know how to destroy them quickly before getting seriously ill. That is why vaccines are safe and the best way to create an immune response in the body without causing disease.
How does my child benefit from vaccines?
Vaccines protect and help children grow healthy. They ensure protection against diseases that could lead to severe consequences, including disability – and even death – especially when the immune system is developing, as it is in infants.
It is highly important to have your child vaccinated regularly and on time. Otherwise, you, your child, and everyone else would be exposed to risk in case of an outbreak of highly infectious diseases. Unvaccinated children are at high risk of contracting dangerous diseases, such as measles, which could cause pneumonia (or even death), or polio, which could lead to irreversible paralysis and death.
How do vaccines protect individuals and communities?
Vaccines protect children against dangerous diseases, but also other members of the community, because vaccinated people are less likely to get infected and transmit the disease. Disease transmission becomes unlikely when a large number of people in the community are vaccinated, and collective immunity (“herd immunity”) is created.
For example, herd immunity against measles is attained when most - around 95% - of the community gets vaccinated. Thanks to herd immunity, we also protect those who cannot get vaccinated (with some vaccines there are contraindications for pregnant women, children and people with weakened immune systems).
What is in the vaccines?
Each vaccine contains a small quantity or parts of microbes (virus or bacteria) that cause the disease. However, unlike with live microbes, the child cannot become ill from vaccines, because the microbes they contain are either dead or very weak. Additional chemical ingredients (preservatives or stabilizers) found in vaccines play important roles in their safety and efficacy, helping to strengthen the immune response and making vaccines work better. Preservatives make it possible for vaccines to remain effective, and stabilizers help preserve the stability of vaccines during storage and transport.
Where can I find reliable information about vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases?
If you need more information about vaccines and the diseases that they prevent, talk to your family physician or pediatrician, or consult with your child’s health institution.
Reliable information may also be found on the web pages of UNICEF and WHO.
For more information, please refer to:
How do vaccines work? (who.int)
Vaccination saves 2 to 3 million children each year from deadly diseases.
Some 45% of the world’s children under five are reached with life-saving vaccines thanks to UNICEF and partners.
The number of children paralyzed by polio has fallen by over 99% since 1988.
Measles vaccinations averted over 23 million deaths between 2000 and 2018.
Vaccines are safe
Are vaccines safe?
Vaccines are safe. All vaccines go through rigorous safety and efficacy testing, including clinical trials, before they are allowed for use. Once they are put into use, their safety is continuously monitored. Vaccines that fail to meet quality and safety criteria are not approved and are not made available for use. Most caregivers throughout the world decide to vaccinate their children because they understand that vaccines are safe and that they are the best tool to help children grow healthy and be protected from dangerous infections.
It is more likely for a child to have serious consequences from a vaccine-preventable disease than from the vaccine itself. For example, tetanus could cause extreme pain, muscle spasms, and blood clotting. Measles could cause encephalitis (brain inflammation) and, as a consequence, blindness. Many vaccine-preventable diseases are potentially lethal. The benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks.
Is there any correlation between autism and vaccines?
No. There is no evidence of any correlation between vaccines and autism or autism spectrum disorders. This has been shown by numerous studies conducted on very large samples of test subjects.
Make sure to rely on credible sources of information when you search for information on vaccines. A missed or delayed vaccination could expose your child to a higher risk of dangerous diseases, and even death.
For more information, please refer to: MMR vaccines and autism (who.int)
Does the provenance of vaccines matter?
There is no need to be concerned about the provenance of vaccines. Regardless of the country of manufacture, vaccines go through a rigorous approval process and regulatory process before being made available for use.
Make sure to have your children vaccinated according to the national calendar for immunization in a safe health facility, or within the framework of immunization campaigns conducted by the Ministry of health.
What kind of reactions might appear after receiving a vaccine?
Some children might have reactions such as: mild fever, redness, swelling or other local reactions at the injection site, i.e. the place where the vaccine was applied. Some children may be irritable, cry, or act in unusual ways. These reactions should not concern you because they are transitory.
Serious side effects are quite rare. In fact, the risks of complications from vaccine-preventable diseases are significantly worse than complications associated with vaccines. Inform your family doctor, your pediatrician or the person applying the vaccine if the child has any allergies or has had a severe reaction to a prior vaccine.
Is it safe for children to receive multiple vaccines at the same time?
Receiving several vaccines at the same time does not upset the child's defense system. It is important to know that every set of vaccines should be received in a timely manner according to the vaccination calendar, to ensure the best level of protection and immunity.
Which diseases are prevented by vaccines?
Vaccines protect your child from serious diseases, such as polio, which could cause paralysis, as well as measles, which can cause brain swelling, blindness, or even death. Access the national calendar for routine vaccination below and find out more information about each vaccine and the diseases that it prevents.
Two new vaccines that have been added to the regular child immunization program are the rotavirus and pneumococcus vaccines.
Rotavirus infections spread easily among infants and small children. Rotavirus could cause serious aqueous diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and abdominal pain. Children with rotavirus infection could lose significant amounts of fluids, become dehydrated and end up in hospital treatment.
Proper hygiene, such as hand washing, is important but not sufficient to prevent the spread of the disease. The best way to protect your child is the vaccine against rotavirus. 9 out of 10 children that receive the vaccine are protected against the severe form of the disease, and 7 out of 10 children are protected against any form of the disease.
The vaccine is administered in three doses, when your child is two, four, and six months old, in the form of oral drops. The vaccine can be administered together with other vaccines for the same age (pentavalent and hexavalent vaccine); it is safe, parents are accepting of it, and millions of children have already received it.
Pneumococcus is a bacterium (Streptococcus pneumoniaе) that causes serious pneumococcal disease. Such infections might be severe in small children and require hospital stays; they include infections of the ears, lungs (pneumonia), blood (bacteremia) and the brain-enveloping membranes (meningitis). Pneumococcal meningitis may also cause deafness and brain damage.
The bacteria travel in respiratory droplets through close contact between two people. Many people, especially healthy children, have this bacterium present in their nasal secretions. They are healthy (asymptomatic) carriers.
Pneumococcal infections occur frequently in childhood, especially among children who attend kindergartens. Vaccination also reduces the infectiousness of carriers. Prior episodes of pneumococcal infections do not protect against future pneumococcal disease. Antibiotic treatment of pneumococcal infections is not so effective due to the increasing resistance of the bacteria to antibiotics, which makes the preventive measures all the more important. The best way to protect your child from pneumococcal disease is to have them vaccinated.
The pneumococcus vaccine is given as an intramuscular injection. A pneumococcal conjugated vaccine is used; it protects against pneumococcal serotypes associated with severe infections in children. There are pneumococcal conjugated vaccines containing 7, 10 and 13 serotypes. The number of doses depends on the child’s age at the time of the initial vaccination, could be from one to four doses.
Should I vaccinate my child even if s/he has already had a vaccine-preventable disease?
You should vaccinate your child against vaccine-preventable diseases, even if the child has already had such a disease. Some diseases, such as measles, can be very harmful, and your child’s immune system could become vulnerable to other infections. That is why it is so important to receive a vaccine in order to bolster the body’s defense, even after having gone through the illness.
In addition, as some vaccines protect the child from more than one disease with just one shot, a prior infection with a single disease would not protect the child from the entire set of diseases. For example, the MMR vaccine protects against measles, rubella and mumps, and the DTP vaccine protects against diphtheria tetanus, and pertussis (whooping cough).
Should I vaccinate my child against diseases that are no longer present in my country?
You should vaccinate your child against diseases that are no longer present in your country because they could reappear quickly if people are not vaccinated. Besides, due to the high level of global connectivity, your child could be exposed to vaccine-preventable diseases transmitted by people coming from other locations where those diseases are still present.
Several diseases, such as polio, are no longer present in a number of countries due to the success of vaccines. However, if people stop vaccinating, those diseases can reappear, which exposes any unprotected individuals to risk. Follow the national immunization calendar to make sure your child is safe and protected.
Vaccination and health conditions
Are there any health conditions that could delay vaccination?
A child should be healthy and in good general condition every time s/he receives a vaccine. You should inform your family physician (pediatrician) if your child is ill or has a fever, if s/he has had a strong reaction to a previous vaccine, if s/he has any kind of allergy, or if s/he takes medications that affect the immunity. These health conditions may not necessarily result in delay of vaccination. The physician will assess which vaccines should be given to your child and at what times.
What if my child was born premature, with low birth weight and jaundice?
Babies born prematurely should be vaccinated just like all the others. In fact, it is crucial to vaccinate babies born prematurely because they are more vulnerable to certain infections and vaccines can protect them.
If your child had very low birth weight, you should discuss with your physician about the need for vaccination. Babies who have had jaundice after birth and babies that are breastfed should be vaccinated just like all the others.
What if my child has a serious illness?
Most children, even those with serious illnesses or conditions, should be vaccinated nonetheless. However, there are some rare conditions, such as immune suppression or severe allergic reactions (e.g. anaphylaxis) following a previous vaccine dose or vaccine component, that constitute contraindications for some vaccines.
If you are concerned about vaccinating your child due to a specific illness or condition, discuss with your physician.
What if my child has asthma, eczema, or allergic rhinitis?
Children with asthma, eczema, allergic rhinitis, or simple allergies should be vaccinated, even if they are allergic to eggs (e.g. urticaria, with a reddish skin rash).
Children who take steroids with an inhaler or a low-dose steroid cream should be vaccinated like all the others. If you have any doubts about the vaccination, talk to the physician or the health facility where the vaccine is administered.
What if my child has epilepsy or seizures?
Children with epilepsy should be vaccinated if their condition is stable. Some children have seizures when they have elevated temperature or fever. Children with a family history of seizures or epilepsy should be vaccinated like all the others.
If you are concerned about vaccinating your child, or if severe side effects have occurred in your child after a previous vaccine, talk to your physician. Remember that vaccines are the best way to protect your child from dangerous diseases that can cause serious long-term health disorders, and even death.
What if my child has recently had surgery or is scheduled to have surgery?
There is no reason to delay immunization of a child due to a previous or future surgery. Surgery is no cause to delay vaccination, and a recent vaccine is no cause to delay surgery.
Why are vaccines given at such an early age?
Vaccines are given at an early age to protect children against serious diseases while their bodies are still developing and are especially fragile. If left unprotected, your child is at risk of becoming infected with dangerous viruses and bacteria that could impact health and development. That is why it is essential to have them vaccinated on time.
For more information download the national immunization calendar below.
Are children getting too many vaccines too quickly?
Children get different vaccines to protect them as soon as possible from serious ailments. Vaccinations in early stages of life are vital because they protect babies while their immune system is not fully developed. Multiple vaccines will not be a burden on your child's body. Babies are perfectly capable of tolerating vaccines, just like they handle thousands of microbes (bacteria and viruses) in their environment since the moment of birth. Immunization will protect your child from serious infections that could lead to suffering, hospitalization, and even death. Vaccines will help your baby grow healthy.
Can I delay vaccination?
Delaying vaccination is not recommended. Every time you delay a vaccination you increase the risk of your child contracting serious diseases.
Is it too late to immunize if the child had not received the vaccine at the recommended time?
For most vaccines, it is never too late to vaccinate. Talk to your doctor about how and when your child should receive missed doses of vaccines. Remember, when you delay or miss a vaccine, your child spends a longer period of time exposed to risk of infections that could cause serious harm, or even death.
Follow the national immunization calendar and do not miss or skip recommended vaccines for your child. Missed or delayed vaccinations increase the risk of infection that could cause severe consequences, hospitalization, or even death.