Why the flu shot is important for kids and how to vaccinate your child safely
- Most kids over six months of age should get a
- Kids under the age of 8 may need to get two vaccines to build up their antibody levels.
- The flu vaccine nasal spray is a useful option for children, but children under 2 years old should not get the nasal spray, as it can cause wheezing.
- This article was medically reviewed by Jason R. McKnight, MD, MS, a family medicine physician and clinical assistant professor at Texas A&M College of Medicine.
But there are also some necessary precautions you should know before getting your kids a flu shot. Here's what you need to know about flu shots for kids and the best way to vaccinate your child.
Why getting the flu shot is important for childrenAs long as your child is six months or older, they should get a flu shot every year.
"While adults have a lifetime of exposure to the influenza virus and influenza vaccination, children don't have this immunological history and this leaves them especially susceptible to infection," says Laura Haynes, PhD, a professor of immunology at the University of Connecticut.Because children's immune systems have no "memory" of how to fight off the flu, Haynes says, they are at greater risk for more severe infections that can require hospitalization. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that each year, between 7,000 and 26,000 children under five are hospitalized for the flu.
80% of the children who died from the flu were not fully vaccinated.
Vaccines for childrenChildren should get vaccinated for the flu every year, and the CDC recommends getting the vaccine before the end of October. But there are special precautions you should take when vaccinating children, according to the age of the child.
The flu shot for children
Children can get the same flu shot as adults, as long as they are over the age of six months. The vaccine won't work for babies under six months because their immune systems aren't able to build up adequate flu antibodies.
The nasal spray for childrenWhile the flu shot uses a dead flu virus, the nasal spray contains live virus microbes, which may pose a risk for some younger children. Still, healthy children ages 2 years and older are safe to get the nasal spray vaccine.
- They have had a severe allergic reaction to any ingredient in the vaccine
- They have a weakened immune system, or are immunocompromised
- They live with someone with a weakened immune system, since they must avoid contact with that person for 7 days to avoid transmitting the virus in the vaccine
- They are ages 2 to 17 and are taking medications that contain aspirin or salicylate
- They are ages 2 to 4 and have had asthma or a history of wheezing in the past 12 months
For a complete list of who should avoid the nasal spray and who should take special precautions, see the CDC's website.
Getting 2 flu vaccines may be necessary for some kidsFor adults, getting one vaccine per year works to build up enough antibodies to fight off the flu. However, "unlike adults, most children do not have any pre-existing immunity to influenza," Haynes says. For this reason, kids under the age of eight may need to get two vaccines to make up for their low antibody levels.
If a child needs two vaccines, it's best to get the first shot around early September, as the protection against flu won't begin until two weeks after the second vaccine. If you aren't sure if your child needs two vaccines, ask your pediatrician.
The bottom lineIt's important for most kids over six months to get the flu shot each year to guard against the flu and prevent more serious complications. If you aren't sure which vaccine to get for your child, talk to your pediatrician to find the best option for you.
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- How long the flu should last and when you should see a doctor
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