These days, by the time a baby is 2 years old, she may have had as many as 20 vaccine injections -- four times more than a baby born in 1980. It's a triumph of preventive medicine, protecting against 11 serious diseases (up from 7 back then) and strengthening rather than weakening a baby's immunity, according to a comprehensive Institute of Medicine study. But all those shots sure are tough on little arms.
Help is on the way:
Although tots already get combination vaccines -- the MMR protects against measles, mumps, and rubella (German measles) -- the new ones help prevent four or five illnesses. Getting fewer shots is not only easier on kids and parents, it also helps doctors make sure all kids are fully protected.
Pediarix, approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) at the end of 2002, cuts shots from nine to three. It replaces the DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis -- whooping cough) and also protects against hepatitis B and polio. Two other combos are in clinical trials: the MMRV, which adds varicella (chicken pox) to the measles, mumps, and rubella combo, and PENTACEL, which replaces the DTaP, polio, and Haemophilus influenzae type b, an influenza that can lead to meningitis.
More vaccines are coming: FluMist, a flu vaccine that's a nasal spray, has been recommended for approval by an FDA advisory board (final approval may come this spring) -- but only for those 5 and up. Babies 6 to 24 months should get a flu shot, though it's not mandatory.
Vaccines for RSV (a potentially life-threatening infection for infants) and rotavirus (a diarrheal disease) are in development. But it can take a decade for a new vaccine to be brought to market.