Is the Flu Vaccine a Good Idea for Your Family?
The flu vaccine is a good idea for all families. It does not cause the flu and it helps keep 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.
Babies younger than 6 months old can't get the vaccine. But if their parents, other caregivers, and older kids in the household get it, that will help protect the baby. This is important because infants are more at risk for health problems from the flu.
Who Should Get the Flu Vaccine?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a flu vaccine for everyone 6 months of age and older.
But it's especially important for those who are at greater risk of developing health problems from the flu, including:
- all kids 6 months through 4 years old (babies younger than 6 months are also considered high risk, but they cannot receive the flu vaccine)
- anyone 65 years and older
- all women who are pregnant, are thinking about becoming pregnant, have recently given birth, or are breastfeeding during flu season
- anyone whose immune system is weak from medicines or illnesses (like HIV infection)
- people who live in long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes
- anyone (adults, teens, and kids) with an ongoing medical condition, such as asthma or diabetes
- kids or teens who take aspirin regularly and are at risk for developing Reye syndrome if they get the flu
- 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)
Some things might prevent a person from getting the flu vaccine. Talk to your doctor to see if the vaccine is still recommended if your child:
- has ever had a severe allergic reaction to a flu vaccination
- has had Guillain-Barré syndrome
What Are the Types of Flu Vaccine?
Two types of flu vaccine are available for the 2019–2020 flu season. Both protect against four types of influenza virus:
- the flu shot, which is injected with a needle
- the nasal spray, a mist which gets sprayed into the nostrils
In the past, the nasal spray vaccine wasn't recommended for kids because it didn't seem to work well enough. The newer version appears to work as well as the shot. So either vaccine can be given this year, depending on the child's age and general health.
The nasal spray is only for healthy people ages 2–49. People with weak immune systems or some health conditions (such as asthma) and pregnant women should not get the nasal spray vaccine.
Vaccine shortages and delays sometimes happen. So check with your doctor about vaccine availability, which vaccine is right for your kids, and how many doses they need.
Egg Allergy and the Flu Vaccine
In the past, people with an egg allergy had to check with their doctor about whether the flu vaccine was OK for them because it's grown inside eggs. But health experts now say that the amount of egg protein in the vaccine is so tiny that it's 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 vaccine in a doctor's office, not at a supermarket, drugstore, or other venue.
If your child is sick and has a fever, or is wheezing, talk to your doctor about whether to reschedule the vaccine.
When Should Kids Get the Flu Vaccine?
Flu season runs from October to May. It's best to get a flu shot as early in the season as possible, ideally before the end of October. This gives the body time to build its protection from the flu. But getting the vaccine later in the season is still better than not getting it at all.