I am a missionary living in the Dominican Republic. Yesterday our eight-month old son received a vaccination for sarampion, which is the Spanish term for measles. My baby book says that it is better not to vaccinate for measles until after a child is 12 months old because the vaccination usually doesn’t make a child immune to the disease until after the child is a year old. Measles is quite a problem here among children and for that reason my son’s doctor requires the vaccination at eight months. The doctor, a Dominican, was trained in the States. I am curious to know, however, if you feel that it was wise for our son to have received the vaccination at the age of eight months rather than waiting until after he turns a year old and the vaccination is more effective.
Beth Veenstra – Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Dr. Greene`s Answer:
Standard guidelines and practices are an important part of modern medicine. They have helped to elevate our health and to provide a framework in which we can evaluate how well we are doing in particular areas.
Guidelines have been set for many health issues. Experts are able to devote a considerable amount of time to a particular question (far more than an individual physician could ever hope to achieve), thus the benefit of many experts’ in-depth knowledge on many different questions is now available to individual families and physicians.
A subcommittee of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians, called the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), establishes the Recommended Immunization Schedule for the United States.
2015 Recommended Immunization Schedule
- Hepatitis B #1 — Birth
- Hepatitis B #2 — 1 to 2 months
- Hepatitis B #3 — 6 to 18 months
- Rotavirus #1 –- 2 months
- Rotavirus #2 — 4 months
- Rotavirus #3 — 6 months
Diphtheria, Tetanus, acellular Pertussis
- Diphtheria, Tetanus, acellular Pertussis (DTaP) #1 — 2 months
- DTaP #2 — 4 months
- DTaP #3 — 6 months
- DTaP #4 — 15 to 18 months
- DTaP #5 — 4 to 6 years
- Tetanus, Diphtheria, and acellular Pertussis (TdaP) –– 11 to-12 years; then Td boosters every 10 years
- H. influenzae type b (Hib) #1 — 2 months
- Hib #2 — 4 months
- Hib #3 — 6 months
- Hib #4 — 12 to 15 months
- Inactivated Polio #1 — 2 months
- Inactivated Polio #2 — 4 months
- Inactivated Polio #3 — 6 to 18 months
- Inactivated Polio #4 — 4 to 6 years
- Measles , mumps, and rubella (MMR) #1 — 12 to 15 months
- MMR #2 — 4 to 6 years
- New in 2012, the ACIP also recommends an extra MMR vaccine for all children 6 to 11 months old who are travelling internationally.
- Varicella Zoster Virus Vaccine (chickenpox) #1 — 12 to 15 months
- Varicella Zoster Virus Vaccine (chickenpox) #2 –- 4 to 6 years
- Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine #1 — 2 months
- Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine #2 — 4 months
- Pneumoccocal conjugate vaccine #3 — 6 months
- Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine #4 — 12 to 15 months
- Hepatitis A #1 — 12 to 23 months
- Hepatitis A #2 — 6 months after Hepatitis A #1
- Influenza — Annually for children ages 6 months to 18 years. Children under 9 years receiving influenza immunization for the first time require 2 doses, 4 weeks apart.
- Meningococcal vaccine– 2 to 10 years for high risk groups including children with weakened immune systems (such as those with complement deficiency or functional asplenia). 11 to 18 years (preferably at 11 to 12 years) for all children not previously vaccinated.
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) #1 -– recommended for both females and males at 11 to 12 years of age (minimum age: 9 years). Prevents cervical cancer and genital warts.
- HPV #2 — 1 to 2 months after 1st dose.
- HPV #3 — 6 months after 1st dose.
These are general guidelines and the range of acceptable times for giving these vaccines may vary. Details can be found at the CDC website at CDC.gov/vaccines/recs/schedules/child-schedule.htm.
Recommended Immunization Schedule for Additional Vaccines
Other vaccines may be prescribed by your pediatrician based on risk factors. There is no recommended immunization schedule for some vaccines, but are used on a case by case basis.
If you will be traveling outside the country, contact your physician regarding special vaccines that are recommended for the area in which you will be traveling.
Any dose not given at the recommended age should be given as a “catch-up” immunization at any subsequent visit when indicated and feasible.
As you’ve discovered in your baby book, the standard immunization schedule for MMR is to do the first immunization between 12 and 15 months of age. Beth, you are right that the immunization is less effective before 12 months. Still, your pediatrician’s idea of giving the measles vaccine at eight months in a situation where measles is very common makes sense and is now part of the ACIP recommendations. The immunization should, however, be repeated between 12 and 15 months of age in order to insure full protection later. Experts agree that even though an earlier dose is less effective than a later one, in a situation like yours, the extra dose does nothing but provide early protection — if the normal dose is still given at the appropriate time.
The example of your physician’s stepping outside of the routine, and your questioning of it, is an excellent illustration of how guidelines should be used — to delineate what is best for the most common situations, but not to inhibit us from thinking specifically about each individual child.