How Long Does A Vaccine Last?

How Long Does A Vaccine Last?

So, you’ve got your vaccine shot.

Now you’re protected for life, right?

Well, probably not. While you may think that vaccines give you life long protection from a virus, that is usually not the case.

In fact, many vaccines will only protect you for between ten and fifteen years. In this article, we reveal the life span of the most common vaccines.

We also provide an eye-opening vaccine life span FAQ to get you fully up to speed on the subject. 

Protection Life of Common Vaccines

VaccineLength of ProtectionComments
(whooping cough)
4-6 yearsBooster at 11 years of age
Diptheria10 years approxBooster at 45 and 65 years of age
Tetanus13-14 years (96% of the population) 25 years (72% of the population)Booster at 45 and 65 years of age
Polio18 years (99% of the population)Boosters are offered to those who travel to at-risk countries
influenzae type B
9 years to datePossibly lifelong
Hepatitis B20 years to datePossibly lifelong
MeaslesLifelong (96% of the population) 
Mumps 10 years (90% of the population)Duration varies according to
Rubella15-20 years (90% of the population) 
Pneumococcal4-5 years to date 
5-8 years to dateLikely to be very long term
VaricellaOne dose – unknown Two doses – 14 years to date 
Gardasil8 years 

The vaccines above that have ‘to date’ after the number of years have only been around for that length of time. Indications are that they will last for much longer. 

Vaccine Life FAQ

What Is The Average Length Of A Vaccine?

Illustration Of Durability Of The Vaccine

Based on the above table, we can see that the average length of a vaccine is 10-12 years.

What Factors Impact Upon The Life Of A Vaccine?

As we can see from the table above, there is a wide variance in the life span of different vaccines. The following factors influence the period of protection afforded by a certain vaccine:

  • There are a lot of new vaccines being used that have nor been around long enough to ascertain their life span. Indications on most of them are that they will continue to afford protection for far longer than the length of time they have been available. 
  • Immunity for a number of viruses lessens following natural immunity.
  • The specific ingredients in a vaccine determine its lifespan.
  • You will generally get longer immunity from a live vaccine than from a killed vaccine.
  • Subunit vaccines will usually require a booster. 
  • Polysaccharide vaccines do not generate long-lived memory cells. 
  • A too-short interval between doses can negatively impact the lifespan of the vaccine. That is why minimum intervals between doses are recommended. 
  • Ages can affect immunity. Those who are very young or very old will probably have reduced immunity length. 

What Is Vaccine Immunogenicity?

Vaccine immunogenicity is a measure of the immune response to a virus that a person has. The test involves a measure of specific antibodies in the blood.

This measure is useful but will not tell if a person is definitely protected from the disease. 

What Are The Different Types Of Vaccines?

Bottles Of Vaccine

There are three basic divisions of vaccines:

  • Killed
  • Live
  • Recombinant DNA

The antigens in the vaccines are greatly weakened, or attenuated.

As a result, they are not strong enough to cause the symptoms of the disease but they are strong enough to induce the production of antibodies. 

Recombinant DNA vaccines are the new kids on the block. It is the result of genetic engineering.

To create a recombinant DNA vaccine, scientists will extract specific genes from the virus and add them to a culture medium, like yeast.

The resulting culture is harvested to be used as a vaccine.

To create a killed virus, the virus is deactivated so that it cannot reproduce. Because it is dead it will produce a weaker response in the body than a live vaccine.

For this reason, they are safer for use by such at-risk members of the population as pregnant women, babies less than a year old and people with compromised immune systems. 

Live vaccines are created from the living vaccine that causes a disease. The virus is weakened to prevent it from actually causing the disease.

However, it will still be strong enough to stimulate an immune response in the recipient. Vaccines for measles, mumps, chickenpox, and rubella are all examples of live vaccines. 

What Does Vaccine Effectiveness And Efficacy Mean?

Injection In Arm

Vaccine effectiveness and efficacy are measures used by researchers to compare disease rates between people who are vaccinated and those who are unvaccinated.

The efficacy is tested in controlled clinical trials. The efficiency is determined after the vaccine has been approved for use by the general public.

Researchers work out the proportion of vaccinated people that they expect to be protected against the virus. 

What Is Herd Immunity?

Herd immunity is a term used by researchers to describe the mass immunization of a population. It is also called community immunity.

Researchers know that if a high enough percentage of a population is immunized, there is a high likelihood that the virus can be eliminated from that population.

This appears to particularly be the case for such diseases as rubella and pneumococcal disease. 

Are Vaccines 100% Effective During Their Effective Lifespan?

No, there are not any vaccines that can claim to be 100 percent effective.

Vaccines that use live weakened viruses are more effective than those that use killed viruses. The best vaccine will give you around 95 percent protection from a virus. 

How Does The CDC Work Out The Recommended Vaccine Schedule?

Recommended Immunization Schedule

The recommended vaccine schedule provides doctors and parents with a clear guide as to when to vaccinated for what.

The schedule has been worked out on the basis of the following factors:

  • The age at which the vaccine is considered the safest to administer.
  • The age that children require protection from certain diseases.

A doctor will give as many shots in one visit as they can in order to minimize inconvenience to the parent and child. 

The recommended vaccine schedule is reviewed annually by the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) to ensure that it “remains current with changes in manufacturers’ vaccine formulations, revisions in recommendations for the use of licensed vaccines, and recommendations for newly licensed vaccines.”

What Is The CDC Recommended Vaccine Schedule?

The CDC recommends the following vaccinations be given at the following ages:

DTP or DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, whole-cell pertussis or acellular pertussis) 

2, 4, 6, and 18 months and 4 to 6 years. Until recently, the DTaP was recommended only in the fourth and fifth doses but now is approved for all five doses (provider/user choice).   

DT (diphtheria, tetanus)

2, 4, 6, 18 months for children who can’t receive the pertussis component of the vaccine.    


Booster 10 years after the last tetanus dose, and every 10 years thereafter.    

MMR (measles, mumps, rubella)   

15 months and 4 to 6 years or 11 to 12 years.


Inactivated poliovirus (IPV) at 2 and 4 months and between ages 6 and 18 months and between ages 4 and 6 years.   

Hepatitis B

6 months (or at birth if the mother is positive for the disease), plus two more doses—there should be a minimum of 4 weeks between the first and second doses and a minimum of 4 months between the second and third doses.    

Hib (Hemophilus influenza type B)

2, 4, 6, and 12 to 15 months. Shots should be given at least 2 months apart. Some states don’t require this vaccine.    

Varicella-zoster (chickenpox)    

12 to 18 months. Some states don’t require this vaccine.

How is vaccine efficacy determined?

Illustration Of Vaccine Efficacy

To determine vaccine efficacy, researchers use the following methods:

  • The ability of the vaccine to induce antibodies that are known to be effective at fighting the virus. 
  • The ability of the vaccine to provide protection in the face of exposure.

However, there are problems associated with this method. Children are not screened for the presence of antibodies, so there is no point of comparison.

That means that when a child’s antibodies are analyzed, the researcher has no idea how many are caused by the vaccine and how many would have naturally occurred regardless. 

What Is Passive Immunity To Viruses?

Passive immunity refers to the type of immunity that babies receive from their mothers. It occurs when mothers are able to pass on their antibodies to their offspring.

This is passed through the mother’s milk. Over the first few months following birth, the levels of antibodies declines.

At the age of around 3 months, the child will begin to produce its own antibodies. But the initial production is very slow. Normal antibody production kicks in at around 6 months of age. 

There is another type of passive immunity. This is called herd immunity.

In this form of passive immunity, a person who has not been vaccinated (or only partially vaccinated) can receive protection from the disease if almost everyone else in the community has been vaccinated.

For herd immunity to work, there must be around a 95 percent vaccination rate in the population.

Herd immunity comes into play when a child who has not been vaccinated comes into contact with other kids at school who have been vaccinated. 

Do Doctors Give Too Many Vaccines?

Injection In Hand

The answer to this question is subjective. However here are a few facts to consider:

  • An infant’s immune system is able to handle vaccines immediately after birth. 
  • Although children receive more vaccines than a decade ago, they actually receive fewer substances in vaccines; an average of 130 antigens down from 200 antigens.
  • In the first five years of life, a child can handle up to 10,000 vaccinations. The CDC schedule provides five of them. 

What Should A Parent Do About Vaccination When Traveling Overseas With A Child?

The first thing a parent should do is to check the child is up to date according to the CDC recommendations.

Then check with the CDC as to what vaccinations are recommended for the country you will be visiting. Then make an appointment with your doctor to get the necessary shots.

Do this four to six weeks before you depart the country. This will give enough time for the vaccine to become active.


Vaccines do not, generally, last forever.

The average active life of a vaccine is between ten and twelve years.

Keeping up with your vaccines is an important way to keep your immune system strong and your body protected from potentially lethal viruses.

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