When parents ask if their children need the flu shot, the answer is almost always “yes.” Influenza, or the flu, is dangerous for children. In fact, the flu is more dangerous for children than the common cold. Each year, many children get sick with seasonal influenza; some of those illnesses result in death.
Dangers of the flu
- Children commonly need medical care because of influenza, especially those younger than five.
- Severe influenza complications are most common in children younger than two.
- Children with chronic health problems such as asthma, diabetes and disorders of the brain or nervous system are at especially high risk of developing serious flu complications.
- Each year an average of 20,000 children younger than five are hospitalized because of influenza complications.
- Flu seasons vary in severity; however, some children die from flu each year. During the 2019-2020 influenza season, more than 188 U.S. children died from the influenza.
Flu symptoms and facts
Influenza causes fever, cough, fatigue, body aches and runny nose. Flu season usually peaks from December to February, but influenza activity can start to rise as early as October.
How to prevent the flu
The single best way to protect your children from the flu is to get them vaccinated each year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend a yearly flu (influenza) vaccine for all children six months and older. The ideal time to get the vaccine is as soon as it becomes available. Children should be vaccinated every flu season. Vaccination is also important for pregnant women, those with chronic illnesses and people 65 and older.
Types of flu vaccinations
Depending on the age of the child, there may be a choice between a flu shot and the nasal spray vaccine:
Flu shot: Flu shots can be given to children six months and older. Side effects might include soreness, redness or swelling where the shot was given, low-grade fever or muscle aches.
Nasal spray: The nasal spray flu vaccine can be given to children two years and older. Side effects might include runny nose, wheezing, headache, vomiting, muscle aches or fever.
If you’re worried the vaccine will give your child the flu, rest assured that flu vaccines contain only inactivated flu viruses, which means they’re unable to cause infection. Studies comparing flu shot recipients to people who received salt-water (placebo) shots showed that the only differences in the two groups are that the flu shot recipients experienced redness at the injection site and arm soreness. They weren’t more likely to experience body aches, fever, cough, runny nose or sore throat.
Number of doses needed
It’s also important to consider how many doses of flu vaccine a child needs:
Two doses: If your child hasn’t had the flu vaccine before and is younger than nine, he/she should receive two doses given at least four weeks apart. Begin the process as early as possible to give the best protection. Your child is more likely to get the flu if he/she child is exposed to the flu before the second dose or isn’t able to get the second dose.
One dose: If your child is older than nine or has had the flu vaccine before, one dose is enough.
Timing is still important. 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.
- Your child recently had other vaccines.
- Your child has any medical conditions.
- Your child is allergic to eggs.
- Your child had a severe reaction to a previous flu vaccine.
For more information, visit the CDC’s flu website at http://www.cdc.gov/flu/index.htm.