A vaccine schedule is a list of recommended vaccines, accompanied with recommendations for the intervals at which they should be administered. In most countries, vaccine schedules are broken into childhood schedules, covering children from birth to age six, followed by adolescent schedules, which cover people up to the age of 18, and then catch-up or adult schedules, which list the vaccines which periodically need to be re-administered in adults to ensure that they remain effective. Most clinics, public health organizations, and pediatricians have vaccine schedules readily available for reference, and groups like the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control also make vaccine schedules public on their web sites.
When determining a vaccine schedule, several factors are considered. The first is the age at which particular vaccines are safe, and the intervals at which vaccines need to be repeated. Some vaccines require a series of vaccinations, for example, before they will take effect, while others, such as tetanus, need “boosters” periodically. The second is the conditions in the country where someone lives; in a country with a high incidence of yellow fever, for example, the yellow fever vaccine is routinely recommended.
Finally, medical professionals consider availability and affordability of vaccines, especially in developing countries. In nations where people might have trouble affording vaccines, a limited vaccine schedule may be recommended to ensure that people receive at least basic vaccines, with optional additions for those who can afford them.
A childhood vaccine schedule typically includes: diphtheria, polio, measles, mumps, pertussis, rubella, hepatitis B, tetanus, influenza, rotavirus, and haemophilus influenzae. For children who have not had chicken pox, varicella vaccines are sometimes recommended, and in some regions, children are also vaccinated for tuberculosis. These vaccinations start at a very young age, and continue through age six in developed countries, where vaccines are readily available and generally affordable.
An adolescent vaccine schedule includes boosters for some childhood vaccines, along with meningoccocal disease, especially for people who are traveling to college. In some regions, the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine is recommended for young women, and adolescents are also strongly encouraged to get travel shots when they venture to a country with an incidence of diseases they may not have been vaccinated against.
Adults are typically encouraged to get boosters of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) combo vaccine, along with the tetantus, diphtheria, and pertussis (TDP) vaccine. Adults who have not had chicken pox may also get varicella shots, along with vaccines for conditions like HPV. Finally, an adult vaccine schedule also includes recommended travel vaccinations for various regions of the world.
Your doctor should keep a record of all of the vaccines you and your children have received in your lifetimes, and it is a good idea to keep a copy of your immunization records. Most doctors also try to keep up with their vaccine schedules, and they will inform you when you are due for a new round of vaccinations.