The flu shot for children

The flu shot for children

Most of this article is adapted from information published by the Centers for Disease Control and has been updated for the 2019-2020 flu season.

What are the benefits of the yearly flu vaccine for children?

The flu vaccine protects children from influenza viruses that can cause serious illness and even death. Young children are especially vulnerable to these viruses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that since 2010, flu-related hospitalizations for children younger than 5 ranged from 7,000 to 26,000 in the United States, depending on the severity of the flu season each year.

In the 2017-2018 season, the flu was linked to the deaths of 179 children in the United States. About 80 percent of the children who died had not received a flu vaccination. Children age 2 and younger who get the flu are the most likely to have serious complications

Learn more about the flu and how to recognize the symptoms.

What's the recommended schedule for getting the flu vaccine?

The CDC recommends the flu vaccine each year for just about everyone, including babies who are at least 6 months old. (Infants younger than 6 months aren't old enough to get the flu vaccine.)

Both the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend getting vaccinated by the end of October. It takes your body about two weeks to produce the necessary antibodies, and getting the shot early allows time to build up immunity before flu season is in full swing. But if your child turns 6 months old during the winter, it's not too late to get the shot because flu season can last into May.

Is the vaccine different every year?

Yes. A new vaccine is formulated every year, about six months before flu season. Scientists study which viruses are in circulation around the world at that time and try to predict which strains will be most widespread during the upcoming flu season in the United States.

Each vaccine protects against at least three different strains of flu virus, and some vaccines protect against four strains.

Do kids need one or two doses?

Most children need only one dose of the influenza vaccine. Kids 6 months through 8 years old who are being vaccinated for the first time, or who have previously received only one dose of vaccine, need two doses at least four weeks apart. It's important for children who need two doses to get the vaccine as soon as it becomes available to have more time for immunity to build up after the second dose is given.

Can children get the nasal spray flu vaccine (FluMist) instead of the shot?

Yes. For the last three seasons, the flu shot was the preferred choice for children, but for the 2019-20 season, the shot and the nasal spray vaccine appear to be equally effective. The nasal spray flu vaccine is OK for children who are at least 2 years old and have no underlying medical conditions.

Who shouldn't get the flu vaccine?

If you have any questions about whether your child should receive the flu vaccine, talk with your child's healthcare provider. In general, your child won't be vaccinated if he:

  • Is younger than 6 months old
  • Has had a severe reaction to a flu vaccine in the past

Children with an egg allergy can get a flu vaccine without any precautions beyond those needed for any vaccine, according to the AAP.

If your child isn't feeling well or has a fever, talk to his healthcare provider to determine if he should wait until he feels better before getting vaccinated.

Can a child who gets the vaccine still get the flu?

It's possible, because the vaccine won't necessarily cover every strain of influenza that your child might be exposed to. But even if your child becomes infected with a strain that's not included in the vaccine, there's a good chance she'll have a milder case.

What about thimerosal?

After many years of research, there's no evidence that thimerosal, a preservative containing a form of mercury, is harmful. In any case, thimerosal was removed from nearly all children's vaccines in 2001, and many flu shots no longer contain the preservative. You can ask your provider for a thimerosal-free version, if you wish.

What are the possible side effects of the flu vaccine?

The flu vaccine cannot cause the flu. The flu shot does not contain live viruses, and the nasal spray flu vaccine contains weakened viruses, so it's impossible to get the flu from the vaccine.

The most common side effect of the flu shot (for both children and adults) is soreness at the injection site. Children, particularly those who haven't been exposed to the flu virus, may develop a low fever and feel achy and tired. These symptoms can last up to two days. Side effects of the nasal spray may include runny nose, wheezing, headache, vomiting, muscle aches, fever, sore throat, and cough.

Severe allergic reactions are rare but possible with any vaccine. See what our expert says about how to tell whether your child is having an adverse reaction.

Where can I get more information?

For the most current information, check the CDC's flu site or call the CDC at (800) CDC-INFO or (800) 232-4636.

Watch the video: Tests on the H1N1 or swine flu vaccine are now underway for children at Emory University in Atlanta. (June 2021).