Does my child need a flu shot this year?
Answer From Pritish K. Tosh, 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 in the United States — ideally by the end of October. This year the CDC recommends the flu shot or the nasal spray flu vaccine.
Influenza is a respiratory infection that can cause serious complications, particularly in young children. Getting a flu vaccine is the best way to prevent the flu and its complications. The flu vaccine significantly reduces the risk of dying of the flu. Research shows this is true for both children with an underlying medical condition and children who are healthy.
Getting a flu vaccine is especially important this season. The flu and the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cause similar common symptoms. Flu vaccination could reduce symptoms that might be confused with those caused by COVID-19. Preventing the flu and reducing the severity of flu illness and hospitalizations could also lessen the stress on the health care system.
Depending on your child's age and health, you might be able to choose between the flu shot and the nasal spray flu vaccine:
- Flu shot. Flu shots can be given to children 6 months and older. Side effects might include soreness, redness and swelling where the shot was given. A fever, muscle aches, headache, nausea and tiredness also can occur.
- Nasal spray. The nasal spray flu vaccine can be given to healthy children 2 years and older. Side effects of the nasal spray in children might include a runny nose, wheezing, headache, vomiting, muscle aches, a slight fever and a sore throat.
The flu vaccine can't give your child the flu. The nasal spray flu vaccine contains viruses that are weakened so that they won't cause the flu. The flu vaccine also doesn't protect your child from getting COVID-19.
The number of flu vaccine doses your child needs depends on a few factors:
- 2 doses. If your child is younger than age 9 and is getting the flu vaccine for the first time or has only had one dose of the vaccine in total prior to July 1, 2021, plan for two doses given at least four weeks apart. Have your child get the first dose as soon as possible.
- 1 dose. If your child is age 9 or older, one dose is enough. One dose is also enough if your child is younger than age 9 and has had two or more flu vaccine doses given at least four weeks apart at any time before July 1, 2021. The two doses could have been given in the same season, in consecutive seasons or in any season.
Keep in mind that it takes up to two weeks after vaccination to be protected from the flu. Check with your child's doctor before your child gets the flu vaccine if he or she isn't feeling well or if:
- Your child has any medical conditions. The nasal spray vaccine isn't recommended for children between 2 and 17 years old who are taking aspirin or a salicylate-containing medication. It also isn't recommended for children ages 2 through 4 years old who have been diagnosed with asthma or have had wheezing in the past 12 months. The nasal spray vaccine isn't appropriate for children who have weakened immune systems. Talk to your child's doctor if your child has an underlying medical condition, such as chronic lung disease, or if your child is age 5 or older and has asthma.
- Your child had a severe reaction to a previous flu vaccine. The flu vaccine isn't recommended for anyone who has 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.
If your child has an egg allergy, he or she can still receive the flu vaccine.
Pritish K. Tosh, M.D.
Mayo Clinic Minute: Why getting vaccinated for the flu is doubly important this season
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Sept. 17, 2021
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- Grohskopf LA, et al. Prevention and control of seasonal influenza with vaccines: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices — United States, 2021-2022 influenza season. MMWR Recommendations and Reports. 2021; doi:10.15585/mmwr.rr7005a1.
- Live attenuated influenza vaccine [LAIV] (the nasal spray flu vaccine). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/nasalspray.htm. Accessed Aug. 18, 2021.
- Seasonal flu shot. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/flushot.htm. Accessed Aug. 18, 2021.
- Vaccine effectiveness: How well do the flu vaccines work? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/vaccineeffect.htm. Accessed Aug. 18, 2021.
- Frequently asked influenza (flu) questions: 2021-2022 season. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/season/faq-flu-season-2021-2022.htm. Accessed Aug. 27, 2021.
- Who should and should not get a flu vaccine. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/whoshouldvax.htm. Accessed Aug. 18, 2021.