Hesperian Health Guides

Common Vaccines

In this chapter:

In most countries, there are vaccines to protect against:

Where needed, there are vaccines to protect against:

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BCG vaccine protects against tuberculosis (TB)

The BCG is an injection that goes just under the skin. It is given as soon as possible after birth.
  • If anyone in a household has TB, and the children never received the BCG, vaccinate them as soon as possible.
  • Do not give BCG vaccinations to pregnant women.
  • A baby born to a mother with HIV can get the BCG at birth. For anyone with confirmed HIV, begin treating the HIV with antiretroviral medicines before giving the BCG.
Tuberculosis (TB) is a dangerous infection, usually in the lungs, that can be treated with medicine and cured. If untreated, TB slowly destroys the lungs and stops the person from breathing. The BCG vaccine helps prevent the most dangerous types of TB and helps the body resist other infections too.
a man speaking.
Combination vaccines are created so fewer injections are needed. The pentavalent is a common combination vaccine to protect against 5 diseases with only 1 injection: diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, hepatitis B, Hib. The hexavalent is used in some countries to protect against 6 illnesses: the same 5 as the pentavalent plus polio.

DPT (also DTaP, Tdap) protects against diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus

The DPT vaccine protects against 3 diseases. The pentavalent and hexavalent vaccines include DPT. By 6 months old, babies get a series of 3 injections.
  • Older children usually get 3 booster injections of DTP or a combination to prevent diphtheria and tetanus (Td, Dt).
  • DPT vaccine in pregnancy helps protect the baby.
  • Receiving all 6 doses of DPT (series of 3 and 3 boosters) gives protection from tetanus for decades. Tetanus boosters (TT) are needed if childhood series was incomplete or if you get a deep or dirty wound.

Diphtheria mostly affects children and can swell the throat so much the person cannot breathe.

Pertussis causes a bad cough called whooping cough, making it hard to breathe. This is especially dangerous for babies.

Tetanus can become deadly quickly. Any person can get it from a cut or wound. Newborns can get tetanus if the mother is not vaccinated.

HepB (also HBV) protects against hepatitis B

By 6 months old, babies get a series of 3 or 4 injections.
  • The first vaccination is given at birth and the others by age 6 months, either with the DPT series or as part of the pentavalent or hexavalent vaccines.
  • Vaccinate older children and adults with the series of 3 HepB injections if they did not receive them as a baby.
Hepatitis B causes serious liver problems and sometimes liver cancer. It can be passed from a mother to baby during birth, between young children if an uninfected child touches the blood of an infected child, or between 2 people through sex or unclean needles.

Hib vaccine protects against haemophilus influenza type b

By 6 months old, babies get a series of 3 injections, either with the DPT series or as part of the pentavalent or hexavalent vaccines.
  • There may be a booster needed at 12 to 15 months.
  • Adults and children over 5 years old and adults usually do not need the Hib vaccine unless they have sickle cell anemia or immune system problems.
Haemophilus influenza type b is not like the influenza commonly called the flu. It is a germ that causes meningitis, pneumonia, skin and bone infections, and other serious illnesses.

Polio vaccine (OPV, IPV) protects against polio

Babies get a series of 3 or 4 doses.
  • At least 3 doses are given by age 6 months, along with the DPT series. In countries where 4 doses are given, the first is given at birth.
  • The OPV (Oral Polio Vaccine) are drops given by mouth and the IPV (Inactivated Polio Vaccine) is given as an injection. Depending on the country, the polio vaccine series may include both the OPV and the IPV.
Polio is a virus that can lead to paralysis, breathing problems, and even death. Because so many people are vaccinated against it, polio has almost disappeared.

The rotavirus (RV) vaccine protects against rotavirus

By 6 months old, babies get this vaccine 2 or 3 times, depending on the vaccine manufacturer. It is given as drops in the mouth.
  • Given at the same time as the DPT or pentavalent series.
For 2 weeks after the baby’s vaccination, take extra care to wash your hands well when changing diapers to avoid mild illness.
Rotavirus is a common disease that causes severe diarrhea, fever, and vomiting. It spreads easily and is especially dangerous to babies and young children.

Pneumococcal (conjugate) vaccine protects against pneumonia and certain other infections

Babies get a series of 3 injections.
  • The vaccination is usually given at the same time as the DPT or pentavalent series but some countries give the first 2 injections by 6 months and a third injection later.

This vaccine prevents serious infections caused by pneumococcus germs that can affect the lungs, brain, and blood.

Vaccinating all children is the priority, but it is also given to older adults to protect against pneumonia.

Measles, MR, MMR vaccines protect against measles

The vaccine is often given as part of a combination vaccine, either the MR (Measles and Rubella) or the MMR (Measles, Mumps, and Rubella). Children will need at least 2 doses.
  • In a measles outbreak, infants as young as 6 months may be vaccinated. They receive the normal 2 doses after that.
  • A child with HIV also needs 2 or sometimes 3 injections but a child very ill from HIV, needs HIV treatment and stable health before vaccination.
Measles spreads easily among children and causes rash, fever and cough. Measles can cause diarrhea, eye or ear infections, blindness, or death.

Rubella, MR, MMR vaccines protect against rubella (German measles)

Children need at least 1 injection. Give with the first measles vaccine.
  • Many children receive 2 injections since the rubella vaccine is part of 2 common combination vaccines, the MR (Measles and Rubella) and the MMR (Measles, Mumps, and Rubella) that are given 2 times.
  • In places where most people were not vaccinated as infants, rubella vaccine campaigns may focus on older girls.

Rubella can cause a rash and fever and will then go away. But getting rubella in pregnancy is very dangerous to the developing child.

Vaccinating all children keeps rubella away and helps so pregnant women don’t get it. Also, girls who are vaccinated won’t get rubella if they become pregnant as adults.

HPV vaccine protects against human papillomavirus

Either 2 or 3 injections are needed, depending at what age the first injection is given.
  • If the first injection is given between 9 or 10 years old, the second is six months later. For someone already 15 years or older: give the first injection, wait 4 weeks for the second, and wait 12 weeks more to give the third.
The HPV vaccine prevents human papillomavirus that causes cervical cancer in women and some cancers in men. It is most important for girls, but if budgets and supplies permit, many countries help boys to get this vaccination too.

Vaccines used in only some regions and other vaccines that only some people need


 a group of people at a meeting about preventing cholera.

Cholera is a diarrhea disease that can quickly kill people of any age through dehydration. Cholera is especially dangerous for babies and children.

The vaccine against cholera is taken by mouth and used where an outbreak has started or might occur, especially in camps or settlements where refugees or displaced persons are living. Either 2 or 3 doses will be needed depending on the vaccine manufacturer. If cholera returns to a region, people may need the complete series again or just 1 booster dose.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women and people with HIV should be included in any cholera vaccination campaign.

Meningococcal infection

This vaccine prevents a very serious meningitis brain infection most common in countries of northern and central Africa. The vaccine is for children and adults. Health workers will need it if there is an outbreak. It is safe for pregnant women. Either 1 or 2 doses will be needed, depending on the vaccine manufacturer. Different regions use the version of this vaccine matched to the type of meningococcal germ that is present.

Yellow fever

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Yellow fever is a virus carried by mosquitoes. When yellow fever comes to a new area, it spreads quickly and is especially dangerous for young children.

Where yellow fever is common, vaccinate children with 1 dose at the same time as measles, at 9 to 12 months old. If yellow fever comes to a new region, vaccinate everyone, including babies older than 6 months.The vaccine is also given to people traveling to where there is yellow fever.

Japanese encephalitis

Japanese encephalitis is a virus carried and spread by mosquitoes in parts of Asia. A vaccination campaign might first target all children younger than 15 years old. After that, only new babies will need to be vaccinated. Children need 1 or 2 injections, depending on the vaccine manufacturer.

Tick-borne encephalitis

This encephalitis is carried by ticks, tiny biting insects that burrow into the skin and are hard to see.

Children usually need 3 injections, the first at either 1 or 3 years old, a second 1 to 7 months later, and a third 9 to 12 months after the second one, depending on the type and vaccine manufacturer. Where tick-borne encephalitis is common, a booster will be needed every 3 to 5 years. Because the sickness is especially dangerous for older people, campaigns may focus on vaccinating adults over 50 years old.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is spread by contaminated food or water and harms the liver. It causes extreme tiredness, sometimes for months. It goes away on its own and will not return. Where hepatitis A is common, there is no need for vaccination but where most people have never had the illness, the vaccine will prevent sickness.

Either 1 or 2 doses of vaccine is given depending on the manufacturer. When routinely given to children, the first injection is given at around 12 months old, and the second 6 to 18 months later.

Chickenpox (varicella)

This vaccine prevents chickenpox, an illness that causes fever, rash, itching, and tiredness during 1 or 2 weeks. Depending on the manufacturer, either 1 or 2 injections are given to every child, and sometimes to older children and adults.

Influenza (flu)

Influenza (flu) is the name for a group of viruses that spread for a few months every year, causing fever, chills, and other signs similar to common cold but more severe. Most people will recover from the flu, but it can be serious for babies, elders, or people with health problems. A new vaccine is created each year to protect against the changing flu viruses. Vaccinating women who are pregnant is often a priority because they will transfer protection to the developing baby, who cannot be vaccinated against the flu until at least 6 months of age.

Usually 1 injection is given each year. Children 6 months to 5 years old are given 2 injections, 4 weeks apart, the first time they are vaccinated.

Typhoid fever

Typhoid is an infection causing fever, vomiting and other signs. It can be treated with antibiotics. Typhoid spreads from person to person through food or water. Handwashing and access to clean water and sanitation prevent it from spreading. The vaccine against typhoid comes in 2 forms: injection or tablets. The vaccine is used mostly when there is a typhoid outbreak and also for people traveling to where typhoid is common.


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Rabies is a deadly virus carried by animals, usually dogs or bats. Rabies is very rare in some countries and more common in others. Vaccinating all dogs against rabies lowers the risk to humans. If an animal with rabies bites someone, the person needs the rabies vaccine injection series starting right away and they also may need an injection of rabies immunoglobulin. Washing the bite very well with soap and water for at least 15 minutes is important.

Using the rabies vaccine after an animal bite: When the person needs both rabies immunoglobulin and rabies vaccine, give the immunoglobulin first then use a different clean needle for the vaccine. Inject the complete vial of vaccine (either 0.5 ml or 1 ml depending on the vaccine manufacturer) into the upper arm muscle on the day of the bite, and then again on day 3 and day 7. Then, a fourth injection is given between day 14 (2 weeks) and day 28 (4 weeks) after the bite. For a child 2 years or younger, the injections are given in the upper thigh. Do not give rabies vaccine in the buttock.

Even if there is no rabies immunoglobulin available, washing the skin very well right away and giving the series of rabies vaccine can prevent rabies.

The rabies vaccine is given to prevent rabies before a person is bitten but usually this is only needed by people who work directly with animals that are likely to have rabies.

This page was updated:07 Jun 2021