Tests and Procedures
Since it is important that premature babies get their shots on schedule, it's possible that your baby will receive his/her first sets of shots while still in the NICU. Here are some answers to questions that many parents ask about vaccines for premature infants.
When are baby shots given to premature babies?
Just like full-term babies, premature babies get their baby shots at two, four, and six months after birth. Other shots are given between one and two years of age, at age five, and as a teenager.
What shots will my baby be getting?
All infants now get five different vaccines at two, four, and six months of life. They are:
DPT—This shot protects against diphtheria (a disease that can cause severe sore throats and heart problems), pertussis (whooping cough), and tetanus (lockjaw).
Polio—This shot protects against polio, which can cause paralysis.
HIB—This shot protects against Hemophilus influenzae, which can cause meningitis (a brain infection) and pneumonia. It’s different from the “flu” shot.
Hepatitis—This shot protects against hepatitis B, which can cause yellow jaundice and liver problems.
Prevnar—This shot protects against streptococcus pnuemoniae which can cause ear infections and meningitis (a brain infection).
Synagis—This shot protects against respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). RSV can cause pneumonia sometimes requiring hospitalization in babies who are “at-risk” (e.g., premature birth, home oxygen therapy). Your baby would need a shot each month during the winter of his/her first year of life if he/she required the vaccine. You can ask your baby’s doctor about the need for this shot.
You will be given vaccine information sheets that explain more about each individual shot, the need for it, and the side effects. You should read these before you sign to give permission for the shots to be given.
That’s a lot of shots. Are they given all at once?
No. In our nursery, they are usually spread out over a couple of days.
Are the shots safe for a premature baby?
Premature babies don’t have any more side effects from their shots than do babies who were born at full term. In fact, premature babies seem to have fewer fevers with their shots than full-term babies. Some premature babies will have more apnea and bradycardia (“A's and B's”) for about a day after the shots, but this gets better. We will wait to give the shots if we feel a baby is too sick. You can read more about the side effects of the individual shots in the vaccine information sheets you will be given.
Do the shots work on babies this small?
All the shots given to premature babies have been tested in premature babies. They work as well in premature babies when given at two months after birth as when they are given to full-term babies at two months old. Unlike many other things in premature babies, the timing of the shots doesn’t need to be “corrected” for early birth.
Why not just wait until my baby is bigger?
Premature babies can get a lot sicker than full-term babies if they get the diseases that the shots prevent (especially pertussis). We need to make sure that premature babies get full protection as soon as possible.
Does my baby need to get a full dose of the shots?
Yes. Half or split doses of the shots don’t work as well. Even small premature babies need the full dose to get full protection.
What about when my baby goes home?
We will let your baby’s doctor know about the shots given in the hospital. You and your baby’s doctor should make sure that your baby gets the rest of his/her baby shots on time. This will help your baby stay happy and healthy. Your baby may need to get some special shots (like the “flu” shot) after he/she has gone home. This is particularly important for premature babies and those going home with oxygen therapy.
What if I have more questions?
Your baby’s nurse or one of the NICU medical provider is always available to answer questions. Just ask.