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Flu Vaccination for Children

A flu vaccination is the best protection against the flu (influenza) for your child and other family members. The vaccine is given in the form of a shot (injection) or a nasal spray. It’s best to get vaccinated each fall, before flu seasons starts. This can be at a doctor’s office or health clinic. If you have questions, talk to your child’s health care provider.

Woman sitting on exam table with baby on lap. Healthcare provider preparing to give baby injection.

Flu Facts

  • The flu vaccine will not give your child the flu.

  • The flu is caused by a virus. It can’t be treated with antibiotics.

  • The flu can be life-threatening. Every year, about 36,000 people die of complications from the flu.

  • Influenza is not the same as “stomach flu,” the 24-hour bug that causes vomiting and diarrhea. This is most likely due to a GI (gastrointestinal) infection—not the flu.

  • Flu vaccinations are safe for most children. If you have questions or concerns, talk to your child’s doctor

How a Flu Vaccine Protects Your Child

There are many strains (types) of flu viruses. Medical experts predict which 3 strains are most likely to make people sick each year. Flu vaccines are made from these strains. With the shot, inactivated (“killed”) flu viruses are injected into your child’s body. With the nasal spray, live and weakened viruses are sprayed into your child’s nose. The viruses in these vaccines will not give your child the flu. However, some children may get various symptoms after a flu vaccine (such as a runny nose, fever, allergic reaction, pain at the injection site, or others). The vaccines prompt the body to make antibodies to fight these flu strains. If your child is exposed to the same strains later in the flu season, the antibodies will fight off the virus. Your health care provider can tell you which type of flu vaccine is right for your child.

Who Should Get the Flu Vaccination

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that all children 6 months and older should get vaccinated, unless your child has one of several specific reasons not to be vaccinatied (see below). Experts particularly recommend the flu vaccine for children in the following high-risk groups:

  • Children 2 years or older who have a chronic health problem (such as diabetes or asthma)

  • Children 2 years or older on long-term aspirin therapy

However, a child does not need to be "high-risk" to have the vaccine. There are few medical reasons why a child should not be vaccinated. In addition, it is especially important that caregivers and household contacts of children younger than 6 months get vaccinated to protect babies who are too young to receive the vaccine themselves.

Note: If your child is getting the flu vaccine for the first time, he or she will receive two doses. The second dose will be given 28 days or more after the first dose. Ask your child’s health care provider how many doses your child should receive.

Who Can’t Get a Flu Vaccination?

  • Babies 6 months or younger

  • Children who have had bad reactions to previous flu vaccinations

  • Children severely allergic to eggs or other components of the flu vaccine

  • Precautions should be taken in children who have had Guillain Barre Syndrome after a previous flu vaccine and in children with high fever (the vaccine can be given after the fever goes away). Talk to your child's health care provider about these precautions.

Online Medical Reviewer: Hanrahan, John, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: newMentor board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Last Review Date: 3/14/2013
© 2000-2014 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.