Flu shots for kids: Does my child need a flu shot?

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Flu shots for kids: Does my child need a flu shot?

Question

Does my child need a flu shot this year?

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Answer

The answer is probably yes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a yearly flu (influenza) vaccine for all children ages 6 months through 18 years — ideally given in September or as soon as the vaccine is available.

The flu vaccine is available for children in two forms:

  • A shot. Flu shots can be given to children age 6 months and older. Side effects of flu shots for kids may include soreness, redness or swelling at the injection site, low-grade fever, cough, muscle aches, itching, and fatigue. If these problems occur, they typically begin soon after the shot and last one to two days. Young children who get the flu shot and pneumococcal vaccine (PCV13) at the same time also may be at increased risk of seizures caused by fever. Tell your child's doctor if your child has ever had a seizure.
  • A nasal spray. The nasal spray flu vaccine (FluMist) can be given to children age 2 years and older. Side effects of the nasal spray vaccine for kids may include runny nose, wheezing, headache, occasional vomiting, muscle aches and fever. The nasal spray flu vaccine isn't recommended for children ages 2 to 4 who have asthma or a history of wheezing, children who have certain medical conditions or muscle or nerve disorders, children who have weak immune systems, and children on long-term aspirin treatment. If your child has a stuffy nose, ask for the flu shot instead.

Whether you choose a shot or nasal spray, keep in mind that children age 8 and younger who are receiving the flu vaccine for the first time or who didn't receive at least one dose of the flu vaccine last year need two doses of this year's flu vaccine given at least four weeks apart. One dose is adequate for children age 9 and older and younger children who've been vaccinated before. If your child needs two doses of the flu vaccine, be sure to start the process early. Children who need two doses of flu vaccine but only get one might not be protected from the flu. For children older than age 2, the second dose doesn't necessarily need to be in the same form as the first dose — for example, one dose can be given as a shot and the other dose as nasal spray.

The 2011-2012 flu vaccine offers protection from both seasonal flu and H1N1 flu (swine flu).

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:

  • Has an illness with a fever
  • Has gotten any other vaccines in the past four weeks
  • Has any medical conditions
  • Experienced a severe reaction to a previous flu vaccine

Keep in mind that yearly flu vaccines are also important for close contacts of children younger than age 5.

Last Updated: 2011-09-14
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