The flu shot and your child
To schedule your child’s flu shot:
What is the flu shot?
The flu shot is a vaccine to protect you and your child against the influenza virus by causing the body to make antibodies which fight these viruses. The vaccine is usually different every year – it’s designed to fight the three or four strains of the flu virus that the World Health Organization expects to be circulating during the upcoming flu season. The exact strains included in the vaccine may vary each year and, in the United States, the final selection of vaccine strains is made by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Can the flu vaccine cause someone to get the flu?
The flu shot does not contain any live viruses and cannot cause anyone to get the flu.
Why do some people not feel well after they get the flu shot?
The flu shot is given during the cold and flu season, and it’s possible that those who have gotten the flu shot have already been exposed to viruses in their community, which may leave them with symptoms. Other symptoms, like fever and achiness, may occur after vaccination and are usually brief side effects of the vaccine.
At what age can children receive the flu vaccine?
Children can begin receiving the flu vaccine at 6 months of age. The first time your child, under the age of 9 years, is vaccinated they should receive two doses of the vaccine one month apart.
Why is it important for children and adults to receive the flu vaccine?
Influenza can be a very serious disease. During the 2017-2018 influenza season more than 700,000 people in the U.S. were hospitalized, and 80,000 people in the U.S., including 180 children, died from influenza. This is the highest number of deaths for any year since record keeping began in 1976. (BMJ 2018;363:k4136) (https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.k4136)
Young children, the elderly, and individuals with certain chronic medical conditions, such as chronic lung or heart disease, are at higher risk for more serious cases of the flu.
Not everyone is able to be vaccinated – children under the age of 6 months, and people with a medical condition or allergy which prevents them from being vaccinated will not receive the vaccine. By getting you and your children vaccinated, you are not only protecting your family but also helping to protect those unable to be vaccinated or at increased risk of severe disease or complication from the flu.
What side effects could occur following the flu shot?
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists several minor problems that can occur after receiving the flu vaccine. The most common side effects are soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given. Less common are cough, fever, aches, and headaches. Rarely, more serious adverse effects may occur, including a neurologic condition, Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS), or severe allergic reaction, which occurs approximately once every million doses of vaccine given.
For minor side effects such as redness and swelling, apply a cold pack to the injection site and give acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
If my child has a serious reaction to the flu vaccine, what should I do?
If suspect your child has a serious allergic reaction, such as hives, trouble breathing, fast heart rate, vomiting, or swelling of the face, lips, or throat, call 911. For less urgent reactions, call your health care provider.
Why is a flu shot preferred over an inhaled nasal flu spray?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends the flu shot as the first choice for children rather than the nasal mist. The nasal spray did not prove as effective against one of the influenza strains during the 2013-2014 and 2015-2016 flu seasons, and was not recommended for use in the U.S. for the past two flu seasons. The effectiveness of the latest nasal spray vaccine for this upcoming season is unknown against the influenza A/H1N1 strain so the AAP does not recommend using it this year, except for children who would otherwise not be vaccinated.
Does the flu shot protect against all kinds of flu?
Every year, the flu viruses change. Researchers work to identify the flu strains most likely to circulate the next flu season, but it is always possible for another flu strain to cause disease. However, even in years when there is not an exact match between the vaccine strains in the vaccine and those circulating in the community, there is usually some protection provided by the vaccine.
How effective is the flu shot?
When the circulating flu strains are well matched to the strains contained in the vaccine, the risk of flu illness is reduced by 40 to 60 percent. Those who have been vaccinated and still get the flu generally experience symptoms that are less severe than those who do not get vaccinated.
How can I prepare my child for the flu shot?
If your child is anxious about the flu shot, you can help prepare them for the procedure. For younger children, you can cuddle, play with a favorite toy, smile, reassure. If possible, hold your child in your lap. If you look anxious and worried, your child may feel that the situation is threatening or scary.
For older children, you can talk them through the experience. Be honest. Tell them they will feel the vaccination as a little “pinch,” but the pain will not last very long. You can also ask your child’s medical provider to use a pain modifier, such as a numbing cream, spray, or a Buzzy – a small device that combines an ice pack and vibration-to help alter the sensation of pain at the injection site.
Besides the flu shot, how else can children stay healthy during flu season?
To stay healthy during the flu season, your child can:
- Wash hands frequently with soap and water
- Avoid spending time around people who are sick
- Get plenty of sleep
- Cover their nose and mouth with a tissue when they cough or sneeze, and throw the used tissue in the trash, or cough into their elbow to avoid spreading infection
- Avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth
If your child is sick with flu symptoms, the CDC recommends that you keep them home for at least 24 hours after their fever is gone.