Does my child need a flu shot this year?

Answers from James M. Steckelberg, 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.

Typically, depending on your child's age and health, you might be able to choose between a flu shot and the nasal spray vaccine. However, this year only the flu shot is recommended. While there is an FDA-approved nasal spray vaccine that consists of a low dose of live but weakened flu virus, the CDC isn't recommending nasal spray flu vaccinations because the spray has been relatively ineffective in recent flu seasons.

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.

To determine how many doses of flu vaccine your child needs:

  • 2 doses. If your child is younger than 9 and is getting the flu shot for the first time or previously only received one dose, plan for two doses given at least four weeks apart. Begin the process as early as possible. Children who need two doses but only receive one can have reduced or no protection from the flu.
  • 1 dose. If your child has had two or more total doses of the flu vaccine at any time — the two doses need not have been given during the same season or consecutive seasons — one dose is enough. Likewise, if your child gets the flu vaccine for the first time at age 9 or older, one dose is enough.

Keep in mind that it takes up to two weeks after vaccination for a child to be fully protected from the flu. Consult your child's doctor if you have questions about flu protection. 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 is allergic to eggs. Most types of flu vaccines contain a small amount of egg protein. If your child has an egg allergy, he or she can receive the flu shot without any additional precautions. If your child has a severe egg allergy, he or she should be vaccinated in a medical setting and be supervised by a doctor who is able to recognize and manage severe allergic conditions.
  • 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.

Yearly flu vaccines are also recommended for adults — especially those who have close contact with young children.

Oct. 12, 2016 See more Expert Answers