Special thanks to the CDC for sharing this post with us in honor of National Immunization Awareness Month.
Having a premature baby can be stressful, and as a parent of a preemie, you may have many questions about keeping your baby healthy. One of those questions may be about whether or not you should follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) recommended immunization schedule for your baby, or if you need to adjust vaccine timing based on your baby’s early arrival.
The CDC and pediatricians agree that preterm babies, regardless of their birth weight and size, receive most vaccines according to their chronological age (the time since delivery). In fact, vaccinating as early as possible is important, because according to The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, preterm babies don’t get as many maternal antibodies through the placenta as full term babies do. This means they are more vulnerable to diseases during their first months of life. The recommended immunization schedule protects against 14 of these diseases, which can be very serious for babies.
Vaccines are safe for preemies, but like any medication, vaccines can cause side effects. The most common side effects are mild (such as redness where the shot was given) and go away within a few days. The side effects associated with vaccines are similar in preterm and full term babies.
There is one exception to following the recommended schedule — the hepatitis B vaccine, which is typically given at birth. This vaccine might not work as well in preterm babies weighing less than 70.5 ounces (2,000 grams). If a baby weighs less than 70.5 ounces and the mother is not infected with hepatitis B, the baby should receive the first hepatitis B dose one month after birth. If the mother is infected or her status is unknown, the baby should receive the vaccine at birth, but it should not be counted as part of the three-dose hepatitis B vaccine series. Then one month after birth, the baby should begin the full three-dose series.
The rotavirus vaccine may also be given differently to preterm babies. Babies usually get the first dose of the vaccine at 8 weeks, although vaccine is licensed for use as early as 6 weeks of age. CDC recommends that if a baby 6 weeks or older has been in the hospital since birth, the rotavirus vaccine should not be given until discharge.
Preemies are vulnerable to diseases and serious infections. Vaccinating according to the recommended schedule is one of the best ways to keep them healthy. For more information, talk to your child’s doctor or visit CDC’s vaccine website for parents.