The ABC’s of Vaccines

By Nancy Gottesman

Your baby’s immune system is designed to recognize and fight invading germs, called antigens. A vaccine contains weakened versions of these disease-causing antigens. The vaccine’s antigens prompt your baby’s immune system to produce protective antibodies, which fi ght off unwelcome bacteria and viruses. The happy result is that your baby gains immunity without having to endure the disease. “The real key to vaccination is that your body makes cells that remember how to produce these protective antibodies in a big hurry if and when the real living germ enters your body,” explains Sharon Humiston, M.D., M.P.H., a pediatrician in the department of emergency medicine at Golisano Children’s Hospital at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York. “It’s an ingenious system!”

Your baby’s shot schedule


Vaccines are a must to protect your infant from 14 preventable diseases! The reason for so many shots the first year is that it takes several doses for a baby to achieve full immunity. (Some vaccines, like tetanus, don’t confer lifelong protection, so your child will need booster shots every decade or so.) Here are the vaccinations your baby needs in his first year, and why.

Hepatitis B vaccine
When: At birth, 2 and 6 months old
Why your baby needs this: It can begin protecting your baby right away against the serious liver disease, which is spread through contact with the blood of an infected person. If a mother has hepatitis B, her infant can be exposed at birth, so it is given as soon as a baby is born to prevent contraction of the disease.

NEXT: DTaP vaccine (diphtheria, tetanus, acellular pertussis)