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. This year only the flu shot is recommended. While there is a Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved nasal spray vaccine that consists of a low dose of live but weakened flu virus, the CDC recommends against using 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 age 9 years and is getting the flu shot for the first time or has only had one flu shot in total prior to July 1, 2017, plan for two flu shots given at least four weeks apart. Begin the process as early as possible.
  • 1 dose. If your child has had two or more flu shots at any time before July 1, 2017 — the two shots need not have been given during the same season or consecutive seasons — one shot is enough. Likewise, if your child gets the flu shot for the first time at age 9 years or older, one flu shot 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. Talk to your child's doctor about your child's symptoms.
  • 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.

Sept. 19, 2017