How to catch up on your child's missed vaccinations


Kids had to give up a lot of healthy routines during the COVID-19 pandemic – they missed in-person schooling, sports and activities, socializing with friends, and time with extended family. For many children, that list also includes missing recommended immunizations.

In California and across the United States, data shows a concerning decrease in the vaccinations administered to children, especially early in the pandemic. According to the California Department of Public Health, the number of shots given to children age 18 and younger in California decreased by more than 40% in April 2020 when compared to April 2019.

If your child missed any recommended vaccinations during the pandemic (or you’ve just recently decided to begin vaccinating your child), catching up with immunizations may feel overwhelming. The good news is that it’s not too late to get back on track. Follow these steps and your child will be back on schedule in no time.

Reach out to your child’s pediatrician

Before you can make a vaccination to-do list, you need to find out what shots your child is missing. Call your child’s pediatrician and be prepared with some questions to ask, including:

  • Which vaccines does my child need to catch up on?
  • How many doses of each vaccine are we missing?
  • Will catching up require multiple appointments?

When you schedule an appointment, let them know you’re prepared to begin vaccinations immediately. If your child is behind on more than one immunization, your doctor will know how to prioritize the vaccines.

Check out the CDC’s catch-up schedule for recommended vaccinations

Once you know what vaccinations your child is missing, take a look at the childhood immunization catch-up schedule provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The guideline for administering missed vaccinations depends on the type of immunization, your child’s age and how long ago your doctor gave the previous dose. This information can help you understand how long it will take to get caught up on the shots your child needs.

Make childhood immunizations a priority

Once you have an appointment in place, do everything possible to keep the appointment. The sooner your child gets the recommended vaccinations, the more protected he or she will be.

The CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) agree the vaccine schedule (and sticking with it) is important for many reasons, including:

  • Early protection: Getting vaccinated early protects children before they come into contact with deadly diseases.
  • Full protection: The vaccine schedule ensures your child gets all the recommended doses to achieve full protection.
  • Ideal timing: The recommended immunization schedule considers how your child’s immune system responds to vaccines at various ages.
  • Long-term protection: Immunizations protect your child long after the antibodies and protection you passed along at birth wear off.
  • Preventing the spread of illness: In addition to getting sick themselves, unvaccinated children can pass along serious illnesses to others.

Prepare your child for the vaccinations

Your child’s age plays a big role in how you’ll prepare him or her for vaccinations. If your child is older, be simple and clear about what to expect at the appointment and explain how vaccines keep us healthy.

The CDC has recommendations for how to make shots easier for both younger and older children:

For infants and younger children:

  • Comfort your child with a favorite toy, book or blanket
  • Distract and calm your child with singing, talking and cuddling
  • Hold your child firmly on your lap whenever possible
  • Smile and stay calm, letting your child know that everything is OK

For older children and adolescents:

  • Point out interesting things in the room to create distraction
  • Take deep breaths with your child to “blow out the pain”
  • Tell or read a story to take your child’s mind off of what’s happening
  • Support your child if he or she cries

Ask for help paying for childhood vaccines

You may have postponed your child’s vaccinations for financial reasons. If so, the Vaccines for Children (VFC) Program helps secure vaccines for children when parents or guardians are uninsured or underinsured. Ask your child’s pediatrician for more information.

Save your child’s vaccination record

When your child gets vaccinated, make sure to ask for a copy of the vaccination. You may need it for school, camp, jobs or international travel.

If your child’s primary care provider cannot provide a record of all the immunizations, the California Immunization Registry may have an official record.

If you missed or postponed a vaccination for your child and want to get back on schedule, reach out to your child’s primary care provider.