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Am Fam Physician. 2007;75(1):117-118

See related editorial on page 28.

Download the recommended immunization schedule for children and adolescents in PDF format.

Guideline source: Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Family Physicians

Literature search described? No

Evidence rating system used? No

Published sources: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, January 2007; Pediatrics, January 2007; American Family Physician, January 1, 2007

Many family physicians may be surprised to learn that the recommended immunization schedule for children and adolescents is in early adulthood (at age 25). The first childhood immunization schedule was released in 19831 and provided guidance to physicians as to which of the four vaccines recommended at the time (i.e., diphtheria and tetanus toxoids and pertussis [DTP], oral poliovirus vaccine [OPV], measles, mumps, and rubella [MMR], and tetanus and diphtheria toxoid [Td]) to administer at each of seven age ranges (i.e., two, four, six, 15, and 18 months, four to six years, and 14 to 16 years). All told, a child born in 1983 would receive 11 vaccine doses between birth and 18 years of age.

In 1995 the schedule became “harmonized,” gaining endorsement from three sponsoring organizations: the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP;, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP;, and the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP; As part of this arrangement, the schedule is now published simultaneously during January in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Pediatrics, and American Family Physician.

The recommended schedule continues to provide guidance to busy physicians. Today, American children receive 39 recommended vaccine doses by age 18, a 3.5-fold increase over the past 25 years. This explosion of antigens has been associated with a 6.3-fold increase in vaccination-related costs. The estimated 1983 private market cost for one child to receive all recommended vaccines was $254 (adjusted to present day, excluding administrative costs); this amount has grown to $1,601 ($1,744 when optional annual influenza vaccine is added for children six to 18 years of age).2 The vaccine cost alone to fully immunize each U.S. birth cohort (approximately 4 million children) is an estimated $6.4 billion.

The recent expansion of the recommended vaccines includes 14 additional vaccine doses as follows:

  • Meningococcal vaccine (one dose at 11 or 12 years of age)3

  • Tetanus toxoid, reduced diphtheria toxoid, and acellular pertussis (Tdap) vaccine (one dose at 11 or 12 years of age)3

  • Hepatitis A vaccine (two doses six months apart at one to two years of age)3

  • Three additional doses of influenza vaccine (starting at six months of age; two doses in the first season, then one dose annually through 59 months of age)3

  • Rotavirus vaccine (three doses at two, four, and six months of age)3

  • Human papillomavirus vaccine (three doses at 11 or 12 years of age)4

  • Second dose of varicella vaccine (at four to six years of age)4

Such changes present a challenge to the clinically active family physician; the complicated array of antigens and timing for administration can make one's head swim. Fortunately, this expansion also has shaped the evolution of the recommended schedules. This is where the recommended immunization schedules become essential clinical tools.

Readers of American Family Physician will note that the childhood and adolescent schedule has been divided into two distinct schedules; this “reproductive activity” should not be unexpected for an entity now in early adulthood. This evolution of the recommended schedule has not been random, however, but rather has been guided by intelligent design.

ACIP maintains a Harmonized Schedule Working Group, which is charged with designing, revising, and editing the annual schedule of recommended immunizations. The AAFP is represented on the working group by one of its ACIP liaisons, and the resultant schedules are reviewed by the AAFP Commission on Science and approved by the AAFP Board of Directors. For the two new schedules, the working group also used focus groups to evaluate possible formats for the harmonized schedules. Thus, 69 health care professionals were engaged, and a clear preference for the resulting schedules emerged. Moreover, the health care professionals were thrilled that their views were assessed, valued, and used.

The original recommended immunization schedule had a strong reinforcing effect on what we now consider to be the routine childhood schedule of preventive care or well-child visits. Well-child examinations at two, four, six, 15, and 18 months and at four to six years are practically etched in stone. The establishment of the seven- to 18-year schedule, which contains the 11- to 12-year immunization platform, provides ample opportunity and reinforcement for the thoughtful and evidence-based creation of a routine health promotion visit at the beginning of adolescence. Furthermore, this routine visit must be harmonized and embraced across all specialties providing care to younger adolescents. The arrival of the new recommended immunization schedules serves as a call for the evolution of preventive care for children and adolescents to be guided by intelligent and thoughtful design.

editor's note: the author serves as liaison to ACiP for the AAFP and is a member of the Harmonized Schedule Working Group.

Coverage of guidelines from other organizations does not imply endorsement by AFP or the AAFP.

This series is coordinated by Michael J. Arnold, MD, Assistant Medical Editor.

A collection of Practice Guidelines published in AFP is available at

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