Protect your premature baby with vaccines

By the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Premature babies are so tiny—you may wonder if their immune systems can handle vaccines. The answer is yes. Not only can your little one handle vaccines, her immune system needs vaccines to help her develop antibodies to protect against serious diseases. Premature babies are more vulnerable than full-term babies to dangerous infections like pneumonia, whooping cough, rotavirus and influenza (flu). And if they do catch one of these diseases, they are more likely than full-term babies to have serious complications.

A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics, showed that fewer than half of infants who were born prematurely had received the full series of vaccines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These babies were still behind on their vaccines by their third birthday, leaving them without the best protection from serious diseases.

Vaccination is critical for keeping your premature baby healthy. Here are five important things to know:

  • Moms transfer disease-fighting antibodies through the placenta primarily during the third trimester of pregnancy. This means that many premature babies do not benefit from the protection of maternal antibodies, leaving them very vulnerable to infections.
  • Premature babies who are medically stable should be vaccinated according to the same schedule as a full-term baby. It does not matter how big your baby is or how much she weighs. She should receive vaccines according to her chronological age—or age from the day of birth.
  • There are only two cases when vaccination might be delayed. If your baby weighed less than 2000g at birth and you tested negative yourself for hepatitis B, your baby should not receive the hepatitis B vaccine until she is ready to leave the hospital. In addition, babies typically don’t receive the rotavirus vaccine until they leave the hospital, regardless of how much they weighed at birth.
  • Studies have shown that vaccine side effects are similar in premature babies and full-term babies. For example, they may have a low-grade fever, or pain and redness at injection site.
  • Getting recommended vaccines during pregnancy can help protect your premature baby.
    • Get a Tdap shot between 27 and 36 weeks of pregnancy, preferably during the earlier part of this time period. Tdap protects you against tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough. The vaccine can also help protect your newborn from whooping cough until she starts her own vaccines at 2 months of age. Get a Tdap vaccine during every pregnancy.
    • If you are pregnant during flu season, a flu shot can help protect both you and your newborn. Get a flu shot at any time during your pregnancy.

Ask the NICU staff if your baby is stable enough to follow the recommended immunization schedule. She needs the protection of vaccines more now than ever. For more information, visit