Immunization schedules: What they are, where to find them, and how to use them

By Atlantic Health Partners

Every year, as part of its mission to promote health and prevent disease, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) publishes immunization schedules as an informational resource for health care professionals and patients. To ensure the schedules reflect the current disease landscape, the US Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), a subsection of the CDC, provides annual updates. The ACIP comprises medical and public health experts, including vaccine experts, scientists, doctors, and public health professionals. 

What Are Immunization Schedules?
For health care providers, there are two immunization schedules organized by age: pediatric (from birth to age 18) and adult (ages 19 and older). Each schedule includes the recommended vaccinations, the number of doses of each vaccine, the timing between doses, the age when the vaccination should be administered, and special precautions and considerations. The schedules are color-coded to convey how widely recommended a vaccine is—the legend ranges from recommended for all to contraindicated. 

When updating the schedules, the ACIP evaluates several factors, including recent vaccine innovations, disease severity, risk of transmission without immunization, and vaccine efficacy and safety when given at a specific age. Before the CDC publishes the schedules, they are approved by several additional trusted medical groups. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists approve the pediatric schedule, while the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American College of Physicians, and the American College of Nurse-Midwives approve the adult schedule.

Where Can I Find Immunization Schedules?
Health care providers can find the CDC’s pediatric and adult immunization schedules on the CDC’s website and in the Atlantic Health Partners vaccine resource center, which is a collection of informative and educational materials to help members’ immunization programs thrive. The CDC’s immunization schedules landing page features specific schedules that include varying levels of information optimized for the health literacy of health care providers and patients. Health care providers can also view the schedules on the CDC’s mobile app and print them to display in their practice or share with patients.

How Should I Use Immunization Schedules?
The CDC immunization schedules can help health care professionals protect their patients from vaccine-preventable diseases by ensuring they provide the most updated and accurate vaccine recommendations. Medical professionals can use their patients' demographic information and medical history to identify which vaccines are recommended by the CDC. With this guidance, health care providers can speak with their patients about the vaccines that are right for them and the appropriate time to schedule their vaccinations. 

Patients can also refer to the patient-specific schedules to verify that they and their families are up to date with their routine vaccinations. By referencing the immunization schedules at the beginning of the year, patients can plan their annual medical appointments to coincide with the proper time to receive their vaccinations.