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Vaccines for Premature Babies

It is easy for the parents of a premature baby in the NICU to get overwhelmed by all of the things that might be going on, especially if they are there long enough for their baby to get their two month vaccines.

Premature babies can usually get all vaccines on schedule - at their chronological age, not an adjusted age based on being a preemie.
Premature babies can usually get all vaccines on schedule, at their chronological age, not an adjusted age based on being a preemie. Photo by Vincent Iannelli, MD

Ventilators, TPN, jaundice lights, feeding tubes, oxygen, apnea monitors, etc. – is this really a time to be thinking about vaccines?

Since premature babies can have an immature immune system and are at greater risk for infectious diseases, including vaccine-preventable diseases, it is actually a great time to make sure that your baby gets vaccinated and protected.

Vaccine Recommendations for Preterm Babies

What vaccines do premature babies need?

Which ones should you delay or skip?

“In the majority of cases, infants born prematurely, regardless of birth weight, should be vaccinated at the same chronological age and according to the same schedule and precautions as full-term infants and children”

ACIP Vaccination of Premature Infants

Not surprisingly, it is recommended that you not delay or skip any vaccine just because your baby was born premature.

You also shouldn’t wait to vaccinate your preterm baby according to any corrected or age-adjusted schedule. Premature babies get vaccinated according to their chronological age, just like everyone else.

There is one exception.

If a preterm baby also has a birth weight less than 2,000g AND their mother is known to be negative for hepatitis B infection, then they can delay their first dose of hepatitis B vaccine until they are 1 month old or at hospital discharge (whichever is sooner). The hepatitis B vaccine can be safely given if the mother is hepB positive or her status isn’t known. That dose just isn’t counted and is later repeated, because of the concern that it might not work as well in low birth weight, premature newborns.

Vaccines Work for Premature Babies

Does that mean that other vaccines for premature babies might not work as well either?

Many studies have shown that vaccines work well in premature babies.

The World Health Organization does recommend that for Prevnar, “pre-term neonates who have received their 3 primary vaccine doses before reaching 12 months of age may benefit from a booster dose in the second year of life.” That doesn’t apply in the United States though, as we give a routine booster to all toddlers at 12 to 15 months and studies have shown this schedule works well for preterm babies. That’s good, because preterm babies are thought to be at much higher risk for invasive Streptococcus pneumoniae infections.

Otherwise, remember the advice of the AAP, including that “medically stable preterm babies weighing more than 4.4 lbs. at birth should be treated like full-term babies and receive the first dose of the hepatitis B immunization according to the recommended schedule.”

What To Know About Vaccines For Your Preterm Baby

Vaccines are safe, effective, and very necessary for premature babies.

More About Vaccines For Your Preterm Baby

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