Does my child need a flu shot this year?

Answers from Jay L. Hoecker, M.D.

In most cases, yes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a yearly flu (influenza) vaccine for all children 6 months and older — ideally given as soon as the vaccine is available each year.

Depending on your child's age and health, you might be able to choose between a flu shot and the nasal spray vaccine:

  • Nasal spray. The nasal spray flu vaccine can be given to children 2 years and older. It's recommended for healthy children ages 2 through 8 years. If the nasal spray isn't immediately available, the flu shot should be used. Side effects of the nasal spray might include runny nose, cough, fever, wheezing, headache and muscle aches.
  • Flu shot. Flu shots can be given to children 6 months and older. Side effects might include soreness, redness or swelling where the shot was given, low-grade fever, or muscle aches.

It's also important to consider how many doses of flu vaccine your child needs:

  • 2 doses. If your child hasn't had the flu vaccine before and he or she is younger than 9, plan for two doses given at least four weeks apart. Begin the process as early as possible. If your child is exposed to the flu before the second dose or isn't able to get the second dose, he or she is more likely to get the flu. If the last time your child got the flu vaccine was before the 2010-2011 flu season, he or she might also need two doses of the vaccine.
  • 1 dose. If your child has had the flu vaccine before — or your child gets the flu vaccine for the first time at 9 or older — one dose is enough. Timing is still important, though. It takes up to two weeks after vaccination for a child to be fully protected from the flu. The earlier your child gets the vaccine each season, the better.

Consult your child's doctor if you have questions about flu protection or wonder which type of flu vaccine would be best for your child.

Also check with your child's doctor if:

  • Your child isn't feeling well. The doctor might ask you to bring your child back when he or she is feeling better.
  • Your child recently had other vaccines. The doctor might suggest postponing the flu vaccine if your child has gotten any other vaccines in the past four weeks.
  • Your child has any medical conditions. The doctor will likely recommend a flu shot rather than the nasal spray vaccine if your child is younger than 5 and has asthma or a history of wheezing. Similarly, the nasal spray flu vaccine isn't recommended for children on long-term aspirin treatment or those who have nerve disorders, a weak immune system or certain other medical conditions.
  • Your child is allergic to eggs. The flu vaccine contains tiny amounts of egg protein. If your child has an egg allergy or sensitivity, he or she will likely be able to receive a flu vaccine — but you might need to take special precautions, such as waiting in the doctor's office for at least 30 minutes after vaccination in case of a reaction.
  • Your child had a severe reaction to a previous flu vaccine. The flu vaccine isn't recommended for anyone who had a severe reaction to a previous flu vaccine. Check with your child's doctor first, though. Some reactions might not be related to the vaccine.

The 2014-2015 flu vaccine offers protection from currently circulating H1N1 and H3N2 flu strains, as well as two strains of influenza B.

Keep in mind that yearly flu vaccines are also recommended for adults — especially those who have close contact with young children.

Oct. 22, 2014 See more Expert Answers