Nobody likes getting a shot. They can hurt, and it's weird knowing that the nurse is about to jab you with that needle. But shots called vaccinations keep you from getting some serious diseases. These diseases could make you very sick. The pinch of a shot isn't as bad as those illnesses.
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 can fight the disease if you ever come in contact with that nasty germ.
When your body is protected from a disease in this way, it's called being immune to an illness. It can't get you. 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 don't get a very bad case of it. Milder cases mean fewer spots and less itching.
Shots are given by injection with a needle. A syringe (say: suh-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.
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.
There are a few shots given when kids are between the ages of 4 and 6 years. The next set of shots isn’t usually until kids are about 11 or 12 years old. Some kids will get a flu shot each year. Your doctor can tell your mom or dad if you need one of those.
Why Do Kids Need Shots?
Shots are great for individual kids because it means that they won't get those serious diseases. But shots are great for the health of the country and world, too. How? When almost all kids have received these shots, it means that these illnesses don't have much of a chance to make anyone 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.
My Aching Arm!
OK, it's true. Getting a shot can hurt. 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 if you're brave! Maybe your doctor gives out stickers or your mom and dad will take you out for something special.
Sometimes, after a shot, your arm will hurt, look red, or have a small bump where the needle went in. You also could have a fever. Your mom or dad can talk to the doctor about any problems you have. Usually, the pain goes 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!
Updated and reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date reviewed: July 2007