Top 20 Vaccines You Should Know About

Learn why the CDC recommends them, when they're given, and more

Doctor applying bandaid to child's arm after vaccination
Steve Debenport/iStock

Vaccines can be one of the best preventive measures a parent can take to protect an infant, child, or teen from infectious illnesses. Certain vaccines can also prevent disease in adults. Vaccines help us avoid serious health consequences such as pain, hospitalization, and even death. It's important that everybody gets vaccinated as recommended—not only for their own health but the health of others, too.

Vaccines are recommended based on age, gender, and even travel location. Before we delve into the specifics of each, an overview of the benefits of each can be helpful.

  • Hepatitis B vaccine protects against liver disease transferred through blood.
  • DTaP vaccine protects against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis. Diphteria covers the throat in a thick, gray coating, thus making it more difficult to breathe. Tetanus can causes serious muscle stiffening and is also called “lockjaw.” Pertussis is whooping cough.
  • Hib vaccine protects against Haemophilus influenzae type b, which can cause pneumonia, meningitis, and epiglottitis (inflammation of the epiglottis).
  • PCV13 protects against pneumococcal disease. In young children, pneumococcal disease can cause pneumococcal meningitis. In elderly people, it typically causes pneumonia.
  • Inactivated poliovirus vaccine protects against poliomyelitis, which can cause permanent paralysis.
  • Rotavirus vaccine protects against rotavirus, the most common cause of childhood diarrhea.
  • MMR vaccine protects against measles, mumps, and rubella. Measles and mumps can cause brain damage. Rubella can cause severe birth defects.
  • Varicella vaccine protects against chickenpox, which although benign in most people, could result in hospitalization—especially among young children.
  • Hepatitis A vaccine protects against acute (i.e., short-term) liver disease, which is debilitating. Hepatitis A is spread by contaminated food and water and prone to causing epidemics, resulting in great economic losses.
  • Influenza vaccine protects against seasonal flu.
  • Tdap protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. It’s akin to a DTaP booster.
  • Meningococcal vaccines protect against meningococcal disease, which causes meningitis and blood infection.
  • Human papillomavirus vaccine protects against cancers caused by the human papillomavirus. Of note, the human papillomavirus causes genital warts. This vaccine is recommended for both boys and girls.
  • PPSV23 protects against pneumococcal pneumonia and is typically administered to elderly people.
  • Yellow fever vaccine protects against yellow fever, a tropical disease. Only travelers and people from certain tropical countries get vaccinated.
  • Shingles vaccine decreases the risk that older adults develop shingles. Shingles causes a very painful rash.
  • Cholera vaccine is administered to travelers to tropical areas. Cholera causes a potentially deadly watery diarrhea.
  • Japanese encephalitis vaccine proffers protection against Japanese encephalitis. Although most people who are infected with Japanese encephalitis don't experience symptoms, Japanese encephalitis can cause brain infection. The vaccine is recommended for travelers to rural Asia.
  • Typhoid vaccine offers some protection against typhoid, which people get by consuming contaminated food and water. Typhoid causes fever, stomach pains, weakness, and more. Travelers to developing countries should consider vaccination.
  • Rabies vaccine protects against rabies. Rabies kills the vast majority of people who don't receive prompt vaccination after exposure. People who are bitten by wild animals should receive vaccination.

Hepatitis B Vaccine

Primary age group(s): Infants

Recommended for everyone: Yes

Age of first administration: Within 24 hours of birth

Number of doses: 3

Timing:

  1. At birth
  2. Between 1 and 2 months
  1. Between 6 and 18 months

Route of administration: Injection

Gender: Male and female

Special Notes: Hepatitis B is a disease that causes liver inflammation. It can cause cirrhosis, a condition in which scar tissue replaces healthy tissue leading to liver failure and liver cancer.

The hepatitis B virus is transmitted by means of blood or other body fluids. In the United States, 1.25 million people are infected with chronic (i.e., long-term) hepatitis B infection. Thirty-six percent of these people are infected during childhood. Up to 25 percent of people infected as infants die of liver disease as adults, which is why it’s especially important to prevent infection by vaccination at birth.

Diphtheria, Tetanus, Acellular Pertussis (DTaP) Vaccine

Primary age group(s): Infants and young children

Recommended for everyone: Yes

Age of first administration: 2 months

Number of doses: 5

Timing:

  1. At 2 months
  2. At 4 months
  3. At 6 months
  4. Between 15 and 18 months
  5. Between 4 and 6 years

Route of administration: Injection

Gender: Male and female

Special notes: Pertussis is more commonly known as “whooping cough.” It is a highly contagious disease that results in a coughing illness that lasts two or more weeks and can be accompanied by vomiting. Pertussis is most dangerous among infants and can lead to pneumonia, brain damage, seizures, and death.

Pertussis is the most poorly controlled illness that can be prevented by means of a vaccine. The frequency of pertussis crescendos every 3 to 5 years, and the number of cases has been on the rise ever since the 1980s. DTaP vaccinations are effective between 80 and 89 percent of the time. In other words, even if a person is vaccinated, it’s possible to still be infected with pertussis.

The DTaP vaccine also protects against diphtheria and tetanus. Diphteria covers the throat in a thick coating and leads to paralysis, heart failure, and breathing problems. Tetanus causes muscle tightening, especially of the head and neck, which is why it’s called ”lockjaw.” This muscle tightening makes it difficult to open the mouth, swallow, and breathe. Even in the age of modern healthcare, one of 10 people who are infected with tetanus die, but the risk is greatly reduced if you get vaccinated as recommended. Booster recommendations are recommended beginning age 11 and every 10 years after.

Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Acellular Pertussis (Tdap)

Primary age group(s): Adolescents

Recommended for everyone: Yes

Age of first administration: Between 11 and 12 years

Number of doses: 1 plus tetanus booster every 10 years

Timing: Between 11 and 12 years; tetanus booster every 10 years

Route of administration: Injection

Gender: Male or female

Special notes: The Tdap is a booster vaccination that also protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. Adolescents first receive the vaccine between 11 and 12 years and receive Td boosters (tetanus and diphtheria but not pertussis) every 10 years. Women should receive the vaccine with every pregnancy because babies are at highest risk for pertussis. Of note, babies are first vaccinated for diphtheria, acellular pertussis, and tetanus (the DTaP vaccine) at 2 months of age.

Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) Vaccine

Primary age group(s): Infants

Recommended for everyone: Yes

Age of first administration: 2 months

Number of doses: 3 or 4 (depending on make of Hib vaccine used)

Timing (if 4 doses):

  1. 2 months
  2. 4 months
  3. 6 months
  4. Between 12 and 15 months

Route of administration: Injection

Gender: Male and female

Special notes: The Hib vaccine can be given alone (Hib-only) or in combination with other vaccines. Hib vaccine protects against a bacteria called Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib). Of note, although influenza stands for the “I” In Hib, this bacteria doesn’t cause the seasonal “flu.”

Hib bacteria is spread through the air. Infection with the HIb bacteria can cause meningitis (infection of the fluid and lining of the brain and spinal cord); epiglottitis (infection of the epiglottis, a flap of cartilage that covers the windpipe during swallowing); and pneumonia (a lung infection).

Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine (PCV13)

Primary age group(s): Infants

Recommended for everyone: Yes

Age of first administration: 2 months

Number of doses: 4

Timing:

  1. At 2 months
  2. At 4 months
  3. At 6 months
  4. Between 12 and 15 months

Single dose recommended for adults aged 65 or more.

Route of administration: Injection

Gender: Male and female

Special notes: PCV13 protects against 13 types of pneumococcal bacteria. Pneumococcal disease causes pneumonia; blood infection (i.e., bacteremia); and meningitis. Pneumococcal pneumonia mostly affects adults.

Children who are unvaccinated can get pneumococcal meningitis, which kills about 10 percent of children who are affected, so it's important to get vaccinated as recommended. Pneumococcal meningitis can also cause blindness and deafness.

Although anyone can get pneumococcal disease, children under age two, people aged 65 or more, smokers, and people with certain health conditions are at highest risk. Due to resistance, antibiotics used to treat pneumococcal disease are less effective than they used to be, which is why vaccination is especially important.

Inactivated Poliovirus Vaccine

Primary age group(s): Infants and small children

Recommended for everyone: Yes

Age of first administration: 2 months

Number of doses: 4

Timing:

  1. At 2 months
  2. At 4 months
  3. Between 6 and 18 months
  4. Between 4 and 6 years

Route of administration: Injection in U.S.; oral (by mouth) available internationally (not used in U.S. since 2000)

Gender: Male and female

Special notes: The vast majority of people infected with polio experience no symptoms. Less than 2 percent of people experience poliomyelitis, or infection of the central nervous system, which can lead to permanent paralysis.

There haven’t been any cases of poliomyelitis in the United States in decades. Nevertheless, it’s still recommended that all children get vaccinated because there are poliovirus outbreaks in other countries.

Rotavirus Vaccine

Primary age group(s): Infants

Recommended for everyone: Yes

Age of first administration: 2 months

Number of doses: 2 or 3 depending on make

Timing (if 3 doses):

  1. At 2 months
  2. At 4 months
  3. At 6 months

Route of administration: By mouth

Gender: Male or female

Special note: The two different rotavirus vaccines were developed because it was evident that improvements in hygiene and sanitation wouldn’t do away with the disease. Rotavirus is the most common cause of infant and childhood diarrhea worldwide and results in between 2 and 3 million cases in the United States, 60,000 hospitalizations, and between 20 and 60 deaths.

Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR) Vaccine

Primary age group(s): Infants and small children

Recommended for everyone: Yes

Age of first administration: 12 months

Number of doses: 2

Timing:

  1. Between 12 and 15 months
  2. Between 4 and 6 years

Route of administration: Injection

Special notes: The MMR vaccine is a combined vaccine that provides protection against measles, mumps, and rubella.

Measles is classically associated with skin changes (Koplik spots) and a rash. It also causes encephalopathy, or brain damage. Mumps causes incredibly painful inflammation of the salivary (parotid) glands. It can also cause inflammation of the pancreas and testicles as well as brain damage and death. Rubella causes enlargement of the lymph nodes, skin rash, and joint pain. It can cause severe birth defects in newborn babies.

The first dose of the MMR vaccine protects only 95 percent of those vaccinated, which is why a second dose is needed. Recently, there have been outbreaks of measles among people who don’t receive vaccination, including one at Disneyland.

Varicella Vaccine

Primary age group(s): Infants and small children

Recommended for everyone: Yes

Age of first administration: 12 months

Number of doses: 2

Timing:

  1. Between 12 and 15 months
  2. Between 4 and 6 years

Route of administration: Injection

Gender: Male or female

Special notes: Varicella-zoster virus causes chickenpox (and reactivation causes shingles in adults). Infection is highly contagious. Five of 1000 cases of varicella-zoster virus result in hospitalization.

Most of the people who are hospitalized are between one and four years old, which is why childhood vaccination is important. In addition to skin infection, varicella-zoster virus can also cause pneumonia.

Varicella-zoster vaccine can also be given to people after exposure to the virus to mitigate infection. Of note, universal administration of the varicella vaccine results in a reduction in associated costs. Specifically, for every $1 spent on vaccination, $5 is saved.

Hepatitis A Vaccine

Primary age group(s): Infants and small children

Recommended for everyone: Yes

Age of first administration: 12 months

Number of doses: 2

Timing: Per the CDC, "Initiate the 2–dose HepA vaccine series at ages 12 through 23 months; separate the 2 doses by 6 to 18 months."

Route of administration: Injection

Gender: Male or female

Special notes: Hepatitis A causes acute (i.e., short-term) liver illness. It is transmitted by contaminated food and water. Poor hygiene and poor sanitation increase the risk for hepatitis A infection.

Although rarely fatal, infection with hepatitis A can cause epidemics, which are a major threat to public health, and an infected person can miss weeks of work or school, resulting in huge economic losses to society. Of note, hepatitis A can withstand standard food-production methods, making it a hardy pathogen. In Shanghai in 1988, 300,000 people became sick with hepatitis A during an epidemic.

Influenza Vaccine

Primary age group(s): Infants, small children, adolescents, adults, and elderly adults

Recommended for everyone: Yes

Age of first administration: 6 months

Number of doses: 1 or 2 (depending on age)

Timing: Between 6 months and 9 years, 1 or 2 doses; after 9 years, annually

Route of administration: Injection or intranasal spray (depending on type of vaccine)

Gender: Male or female

Special notes: The influenza vaccine protects against seasonal flu. For most, the seasonal flu is a nuisance. However for some, flu kills.

According to the CDC: “Influenza infection can affect people differently, but millions of people get the flu every year, hundreds of thousands of people are hospitalized and thousands or tens of thousands of people die from flu-related causes every year. Even healthy people can get very sick from the flu and spread it to others.” It's important to get vaccinated, not just for yourself, but for the benefit of high-risk populations, such as the elderly or those with compromised immune systems, too.

Meningococcal Vaccines

Primary age group(s): Adolescents

Recommended for everyone: Yes

Age of first administration: 11 to 12 years (earlier for children at high risk)

Number of doses: Typically 2 (booster at 16) but can vary

Timing:

  1. Between 11 and 12 years
  2. At 16 years (booster)

Route of administration: Injection

Gender: Male or female

Special notes: Meningococcal vaccines protect against meningococcal disease caused by Neisseria meningitides. This bacteria causes meningitis (infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord) as well as infection of the blood (bacteremia or septicemia). This bacteria is spread by respiratory secretions or body fluids (i.e. spit).

In those who are infected, immediate treatment with antibiotics is necessary to prevent negative outcomes. Certain adolescents aged between 16 and 23 may also receive vaccination with a second type of meningococcal vaccine called serogroup B meningococcal vaccine. Serogroup B meningococcal vaccine is also administered to children aged 10 and older during outbreaks and those with immunodeficiency.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccine

Primary age group(s): Adolescents

Recommended for everyone: Yes

Age of first administration: 11 to 12 years

Number of doses: 2

Timing: Both doses given between 11 and 12 years at 6 to 12 months apart

Gender: Male or female

Special notes: The human papillomavirus causes genital warts. HPV vaccine protects against cancers caused by the human papillomavirus. Most people who are infected with HPV develop no symptoms. However, HPV can cause many types of cancers, including cervical cancer, penile cancer, anal cancer, and throat cancer. Although HPV vaccine was once only recommended for girls, it is now recommended for both boys and girls.

Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23)

Primary age group(s): Elderly

Recommended for everyone: Yes

Age of first administration: 65 years (younger in certain high-risk groups)

Number of doses: Typically one

Timing: Single dose recommended for adults aged 65 or more.

Route of injection: Injection

Gender: Male or female

Special notes: PPSV23 protects against 23 types of pneumococcal bacteria. It is usually administered to adults older than 65 who are at increased risk for pneumococcal pneumonia. Certain high-risk groups who are younger can also be vaccinated, such as people older than two with immunodeficiency and other long-term health problems as well as those people older than 19 who have asthma or smoke.

Shingles Vaccine

Primary age group(s): Elderly people

Recommended for everyone: Yes

Age of first administration: 65 years (younger for high-risk groups)

Number of doses: One

Timing: Single dose given after 65

Route of administration: Injection

Gender: Male or female

Special notes: The shingles vaccine protects against shingles, which leads to a very painful condition called post-herpetic neuralgia. Specifically, the shingles vaccine reduces your risk of developing shingles by 51 percent and post-herpetic neuralgia by 67 percent.

With shingles, the pain occurs in the same area as the rash (i.e., along dermatomes). Shingles is caused by reactivation of the same virus as chickenpox: the varicella-zoster virus. As people get older, their risk for developing shingles increases. People younger than 40 years old rarely develop post-herpetic neuralgia.

Cholera Vaccine

Primary age group(s): Adults

Recommended for everyone: No, only for people traveling to tropical areas where cholera is transmitted.

Age of first administration: Between 18 and 64 years.

Number of doses: One

Timing: 10 days before travel

Route of administration: By mouth

Gender: Male or female

Special notes: Cholera is an illness caused by Vibrio cholera bacteria. Cholera causes watery diarrhea that can run the gamut from mild to life-threatening. Severe cholera infection results in copious diarrhea, vomiting, and dehydration. For those who are infected, prompt treatment with antibiotics and intravenous fluids is necessary. The cholera vaccine was first approved by the FDA in 2016.

Japanese encephalitis Vaccine

Primary age group(s): Infants, children, adolescents, adults, and elderly people

Recommended for everyone: No, only for people traveling to stay one month or more in areas where Japanese encephalitis is spread (i.e., rural Asia).

Age of first administration: 2 months

Number of doses: 2

Timing: Two doses spread 28 days apart with the last dose give one week before travel

Route of administration: Injection

Gender: Male or female

Special notes: Most people who are infected with Japanese enchephalitis develop no symptoms. When symptomatic, infection can range from mild (i.e., headache and fever) to serious (i.e., brain infection or encephalitis). Japanese encephalitis is spread by mosquitoes. It's thought that infection with the Japanese encephalitis virus during pregnancy can harm the unborn baby.

Yellow Fever Vaccine

Primary age group(s): Infants, small children, adolescents, adults, and elderly adults

Recommended for everyone: Yes, but only in certain countries.

Age of first vaccination: 9 months

Number of doses: 1

Timing: Single dose given in children aged 9 months or older

Route of administration: Injection

Gender: Male or female

Special notes: The yellow fever vaccine (17D vaccine) is recommended for people living in places where yellow fever is found or people traveling to such places. Yellow fever is transmitted by mosquitoes in sub-Saharan Africa and South America. Infection with yellow fever can cause fever, muscle aches, jaundice, and more. (It’s called yellow fever because jaundice causes yellowing of the skin, eyes, and mucus membranes.) A small percentage of people who are infected with yellow fever develop severe symptoms and die. If you're traveling, take the precaution and get vaccinated.

Typhoid Vaccine

Primary age group(s): Children, adolescents, adults, and elderly people

Recommended for everyone: No, only for travelers to countries where typhoid is spread (i.e., non-industrialized Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Eastern Europe).

Age of first vaccination: 2 years for injection; 6 years for oral vaccine

Number of doses: Depends on type of vaccine. Injection given once at least 2 weeks before travel plus booster every 2 years for those who remain at risk for typhoid infection. Oral vaccine given 4 times plus booster every 5 years for those who remain at risk for typhoid infection.

Timing (oral vaccine): Capsule taken every other day for a week, with the last dose taken at least one week before travel

Route of administration: By mouth (oral live typhoid vaccine); injection (inactivated typhoid vaccine)

Gender: Male or female

Special notes: Typhoid vaccine helps prevent infection caused by a bacteria called Salmonella Typhi. Symptoms of typhoid infection include high fever, weakness, fatigue, headache, loss of appetite, stomach pains, and less often rash.

People get typhoid by consuming contaminated food and water. Infection is rare in the United States, Canada, Western Europe, and other industrialized nations. Of note, typhoid vaccine is helpful when traveling, but it is not 100 percent protective against infection; thus, caution should still be taken to avoid contaminated food and water.

Rabies Vaccine

Primary age group(s): Depends on age of exposure.

Recommended for everyone: No, only for those who are exposed to rabies (typically by means of a wild animal bite) or for people who are at high-risk for exposure, such as veterinarians, animal handlers, and laboratory workers. Travelers to areas outside the United States where rabies is common and will likely be exposed to animals should also consider vaccination.

Age of first vaccination: Depends on age of exposure.

Number of doses: 4 for those who are exposed and have never been exposed before. Of note, those at high-risk can be pre-vaccinated. Rabies Immune Globulin, another shot, is administered at the same time as the first dose of the rabies vaccine.

Timing (for first-time exposure):

  1. As soon as possible
  2. Third day
  3. Seventh day
  4. Fourteenth day

Route of administration: Injection

Gender: Male or female

Special notes: Rabies is a serious viral illness. It can take weeks or months for rabies symptoms to appear, but once they do, rabies almost always leads to negative outcomes. Anybody who has potentially been exposed (typically by wild animal bite) should immediately be vaccinated.

At first, rabies can cause fever, fatigue, pain, headaches, and irritability. These initial symptoms are then followed by hallucinations, seizures, paralysis, and death. Although rabies is rare in the United States, it is found more commonly in other countries. Bats are the most common source of rabies infection in the United States. Between 16,000 and 39,000 Americans are vaccinated each year as a precautionary measure.

Sources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2017 Recommendation Immunization for Adults: By Age.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Immunization Schedules: Child and Adolescent Schedule.

Parashar UD, Glass RI. Viral Gastroenteritis. In: Kasper D, Fauci A, Hauser S, Longo D, Jameson J, Loscalzo J. eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19e New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2014.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vaccine Information Statements: Pneumococcal Polysaccharide VIS.

World Health Organization. Yellow fever.

Zimmerman R, Middleton DB. Chapter 7. Routine Childhood Vaccines. In: South-Paul JE, Matheny SC, Lewis EL. eds. CURRENT Diagnosis & Treatment in Family Medicine, 3e New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2011.

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