Does my child need a flu shot this year?
Answer From Pritish K. Tosh, M.D.
Yes, unless the child is younger than 6 months of age or has medical reasons not to get a flu shot.
Influenza, also called flu, is an infection of the lungs, nose and throat. The infection is caused by influenza viruses. Most people with the flu get better on their own. But for young children, flu can cause serious illness and complications, such as pneumonia or ear infections.
Getting a flu vaccine protects your child against getting the flu and complications from the flu. 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.
Each year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends an influenza vaccine. The CDC suggests that all children age 6 months and older in the United States get the vaccine by the end of October. It takes up to two weeks after vaccination to be protected from the flu.
The flu vaccine can't give your child the flu. The vaccines only have particles that look like the flu, or weakened flu virus that can't cause illness.
Getting a flu vaccine is especially important this season. Symptoms of the flu and the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) can be similar. Children age 6 years and older may even be able to get a flu vaccine and a COVID-19 vaccine at the same visit.
Getting the flu vaccine
If your child is age 9 or older, one dose is usually enough for protection from flu. One dose also is enough if your child is younger than age 9 and has had two or more flu vaccine doses given at least 4 weeks apart any time before July 1, 2023.
Children age 6 months through 8 years old who never had a flu shot before July 1, 2023, may need two flu doses. The shots are given 4 weeks apart, so experts suggest making your child's appointment as soon as flu vaccines are available. That way your child has full protection by the end of October.
If your child has an egg allergy, the child can still receive the flu vaccine.
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 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.
The nasal spray flu vaccine can be given to most 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 nasal spray vaccine isn't recommended for:
- Children between 2 and 17 years old who are taking aspirin or a salicylate-containing medication.
- Children ages 2 through 4 years old who have been diagnosed with asthma or have had wheezing in the past 12 months.
- Children who have weakened immune systems.
Before getting the nasal spray, talk to your child's healthcare professional if your child is age 4 or older and has asthma. Or if your child has an underlying medical condition, such as chronic lung disease.
Before getting the flu vaccine
If you child isn't feeling well, check with your child's healthcare professional to see if your child should wait to get the flu vaccine. And a flu vaccine isn't recommended for anyone who has had a severe reaction known to be caused by a previous flu vaccine.
If that's the case for your child, talk with your child's healthcare professional about other ways to protect against flu.
Pritish K. Tosh, M.D.
Sept. 14, 2023
- Grohskopf LA, et al. Prevention and control of seasonal influenza with vaccines: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices — United States, 2023-2024 influenza season. MMWR Recommendations and Reports. 2023; doi:10.15585/mmwr.rr7202a1.
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