The flu vaccine is, indeed, a good idea for families. The flu shot does not cause the flu and it keeps kids and parents from getting sick. Getting the flu is worse than having a cold and can make a person sick for a week or more.
Infants younger than 6 months can't get the vaccine, but if the parents and older kids in the household get it, that will help protect the baby. This is important because infants are more at risk for serious complications from the flu.
Who Should Be Immunized?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommends a flu vaccine for everyone 6 months of age and older.
But it's especially important for those in higher-risk groups to be vaccinated. These include:
- all kids 6 months through 4 years old
- anyone 65 years and older
- all women who are pregnant, are considering pregnancy, have recently given birth, or are breastfeeding during flu season
- anyone whose immune system is weakened from medications or illnesses (like HIV infection)
- residents of long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes
- any adult or child with chronic medical conditions, such as asthma
- kids or teens who take aspirin regularly and are at risk for developing Reye syndrome if they get the flu
- all health care personnel
- caregivers or household contacts of anyone in a high-risk group (like children younger than 5 years old, especially those younger than 6 months, and those with high-risk conditions)
- Native Americans and Alaskan Natives
Certain circumstances might prevent a person from getting the vaccine. If your child falls into any of the groups below, talk to your doctor to see if the vaccine is still recommended:
- infants under 6 months old
- anyone who's ever had a severe reaction to a flu vaccination
- anyone with Guillain-Barré syndrome (a rare condition that affects the immune system and nerves)
Types of Flu Vaccine
You might have read about different vaccines coming into the market this year. One type (called trivalent) protects against three strains of the flu virus (usually, two types of influenza A viruses and one influenza B virus), while another (called quadrivalent) protects against four strains. Some are given as an injection (shot), while others are given as a mist sprayed into the nose.
Several new vaccines are approved only for adults at this time, such as "egg-free" vaccines and "intradermal" shots, which are injected into the skin, rather than muscle, using a smaller needle.
This can be confusing for parents, but the important thing to know is that experts are not recommending one vaccine over the other — for now, the main goal is to have everyone over the age of 6 months vaccinated as soon as the vaccine is available, since it's impossible to predict when the flu virus will start spreading.
Egg Allergy and Flu Shots
In the past, it was recommended that anyone with an egg allergy talk to a doctor about whether receiving the flu vaccine was safe because it is grown inside eggs. But health experts now say that the amount of egg allergen in the vaccine is so tiny that it (but not the nasal mist) is safe even for kids with a severe egg allergy. This is especially important during a severe flu season.
Still, a child with an egg allergy should get the flu shot in a doctor's office, not at a supermarket, drugstore, or other venue. And if the allergy is severe, it might need to be given in an allergist's office.
If your child is sick and has a fever, talk to your doctor about rescheduling the flu shot.
When Should Kids Get Vaccinated?
Flu season runs from October to May. It's best to get a flu shot early in the season, as it gives the body a chance to build up immunity to, or protection from, the flu. But getting a shot later in the season is still better than not getting the vaccine at all.
Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: September 2013