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What to Expect: For Children

Expand the sections below to learn what to expect before, during, and after your child’s vaccine visit.

Infants and children need vaccines to protect them from harmful diseases. These diseases can have serious complications, especially for very young children. Our doctor can guide you in determining what vaccines your baby needs and when she needs them.

  • If you have a vaccination record card for your child, take it along so the doctors can mark the shots given to her today. If she is getting her first vaccination(s), ask for a card. You will need your children's immunization records to register them for school, child care, athletic teams, and summer camps or to travel. Your child’s vaccines may also be entered into an electronic registry, or “immunization information system.”
  • The doctor or nurse will ask you some questions about your child. Be prepared to answer:
    • Has your baby had a severe reaction to a previous dose of any vaccine?
      Babies often get a sore leg or a mild fever after vaccinations. But let the doctor or nurse know if your baby has ever had a more serious side effect. There are a few uncommon reactions that could be a reason to not give another dose of a vaccine.
    • Does your baby have any severe allergies?
      A baby who has a severe allergy to a substance that is in a vaccine shouldn’t get that vaccine. (A severe allergy is one that could be life-threatening. Less severe allergies aren’t a problem.) Naturally you can’t be expected to know whether or not your baby is allergic to every substance in every vaccine. All you can do is report any allergies you do know about. Your doctor or nurse will be able to cross-check these against lists of vaccine ingredients. Don’t be too worried about allergies you don’t know about. Severe allergic reactions to vaccines are rare (around 1 in a million), and the doctor is prepared to deal with them if they do occur. Among allergies that you might know about are eggs, gelatin and yeast, which are in certain vaccines, and latex, which might be part of the syringe or in the stopper of a vaccine vial.
    • Does your child have an immune system problem?
      A child with a suppressed immune system should not get certain (live) vaccines. A suppressed immune system can be caused by diseases such as AIDS, leukemia, or cancer, or by medical treatments such as steroids, chemotherapy, or radiation. Your doctor, nurse, or other provider will be able to help you answer any questions.
  • Read the Vaccine Information Statement (VIS) for the vaccine(s) your child is set to receive.  These sheets explain both the benefits and risks of a vaccine. There is a VIS for every vaccine routinely administered to children, and many are available in languages other than English.  Health care providers are required by law to provide them.
  • For more detailed information, you may also want to review the FDA-approved labeling for each vaccine.

Last reviewed: April 2015

  • The doctor or nurse will ask questions like those mentioned in the Before section, to determine if your child has precautions to vaccination.
  • Your provider should give you a Vaccine Information Statement (VIS) for each vaccine your child receives. Always ask your provider if you have any questions or would like more information.
  • Your provider might ask you to hold your child in a certain way to steady the arm or leg where the shot will be given. These techniques are designed to keep her still without actually holding her down or frightening her.  Check out CDC resources for comforting techniques during childhood immunizations.
  • CDC recommends to keep a child in the office for observation for about 15 or 20 minutes after getting vaccines, in the unlikely event of an allergic reaction or in case the child becomes dizzy or faints.
  • If your child has a moderate or severe cold or other illness, you might be asked to postpone vaccinations until he gets better.
  • Be sure that any vaccinations that are given get recorded in your child’s vaccine record.

Last reviewed: April 2015

  • Any vaccine can cause side effects. For the most part these are minor (for example, a sore arm or low-grade fever) and go away within a few days.
  • A non-aspirin pain reliever may be taken to reduce any pain or fever that might follow vaccinations. Give your child lots of fluids to drink. A cool, wet washcloth over the sore area can help relieve pain.
  • If your child or baby cries for 3 or more hours without quitting, if he seems limp or unresponsive, if he starts having seizures(convulsions), or if you are worried at all about how your child looks or feels, call the doctor right away. Serious reactions are rare, and immediate attention will help diminish the risk.
  • A severe allergic reaction to a vaccine is very unlikely, but if one were to occur, be ready to respond to it:
    • If an allergic reaction occurs, it will usually happen within a few minutes to a few hours after the vaccination.
  • Pay attention to any unusual condition, such as a high fever, weakness, or behavior changes. Signs of a serious allergic reaction can include:
    • difficulty breathing
    • hoarseness or wheezing
    • hives
    • paleness
    • weakness
    • a fast heart beat
    • dizziness
  • If you or your child shows these signs, call a doctor right away.
    • Be ready to tell the doctor when the reaction occurred, what vaccinations were given, and when.
  • Vaccines, like any medication, may cause side effects. If you think that your child does have a serious reaction, first contact your doctor or other health care provider. Then, if you would like to learn more, read about the two programs below—VAERS and the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. Most people will never need these programs, but they are there if you do.
    •  VAERS. This stands for the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System. It is a system for reporting adverse events following receipt of a vaccine. If you or your child has an unusual medical condition within a few days after getting a vaccine, you or your provider should report it to VAERS even if you don’t know whether it was related to the vaccine. One of the jobs of VAERS is to collect these reports and use the data to help identify serious adverse reactions that may require further investigation. Your provider will usually file a VAERS report for you. However, you can also file a report yourself. For more information, see the VAERS website at www.vaers.hhs.gov.
    • Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. If you believe you or your child was seriously injured by a vaccine, there is a no-fault federal program that may help compensate you for his or her care. To learn more about the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, see their website at www.hrsa.gov/vaccinecompensation.

Last reviewed: April 2015