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A Kid's Guide to Shots

Medically reviewed by: KidsHealth Medical Experts

Nobody likes getting a shot. But the vaccines that doctors and nurses give you with a needle keep you from getting some serious diseases. These diseases could make you very sick. The quick pinch of a shot isn't nearly as bad as those illnesses.

How Do Shots Protect Kids?

Shots protect you by giving you only a tiny piece of a disease-causing germ or by giving you a version of the germ that is dead or very weak. Giving a whole germ that's alive would give you a disease (like measles or chickenpox).

But giving only this tiny, weakened, or dead part of the germ does not give you the disease. Instead, just the opposite happens. Your body responds to the vaccine by making antibodies. These antibodies are part of your immune system, and they stay in your body. This way, your body can fight the disease if you have contact with that nasty germ in the future.

When your body is protected from a disease in this way, it's called being immune to an illness. In most cases, it means you won't get the illness at all. But sometimes, you can still get a mild case of the illness. This can happen with chickenpox. Even kids who get the shot to prevent chickenpox can still get a case of it. The good news is that they usually get milder cases, with fewer spots and less itching.

Shots are given by injection with a needle. A syringe (say: seh-RINJ) holds the liquid vaccine, and the needle has a hole in it for the liquid to squirt through. Shots are usually given in your arm or sometimes your thigh.

First Shots

The good news is that kids get a lot of the shots they need by age 2. So if you're old enough to read this article, you've already had most of your shots! After that, a kid doesn't need many more.

Kids get a few shots when they're between 4 and 6 years old. The next set of shots isn't usually until kids are about 11 or 12 years old.

Most kids should get the flu vaccine each year. Now, instead of a shot, many kids can get it as a nasal spray. This is a mist that is sprayed into the nostrils, so there's no needle. The shot and the nasal spray work equally well. Your doctor will suggest which is best for you and let you know if you need any other shots.

Why Do Kids Need Shots?

Shots are great for kids because it means that they won't get those serious diseases. And when almost all kids have had their shots, it means that these illnesses won't have as much of a chance to make anyone else sick.

Because most kids in the United States get all their shots, you rarely meet anyone who has had diseases like measles or mumps. Your mom or dad has probably had to show your school that you've had all your shots. Schools and camps do this because they don't want the kids spreading or catching serious illnesses.

Does Getting a Shot Hurt?

OK, it's true. Getting a shot can hurt a little. But the pain usually comes and goes pretty quickly. If you cry, don't worry about it. Lots of kids do.

To make shots easier to take, try bringing your favorite teddy bear or asking your mom or dad to hold your hand while you're getting a shot. Afterward, you may even get a little treat! Maybe your doctor gives out stickers or your mom and dad will take you to the playground.

Sometimes after a shot, your arm will be sore, look red, or have a small bump where the needle went in. You also could have a low fever. Your mom or dad can talk to the doctor about any problems you have. Usually, the soreness and fever go away quickly or after you take some pain reliever, like acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

It's OK if you don't like shots. But remember that they are your best shot at staying healthy!

Medically reviewed by: KidsHealth Medical Experts
Date reviewed: February 2023