Mayo Clinic Health Library

Question

Flu shots for kids: Does my child need a flu shot?

Does my child need a flu shot this year?

Updated: 09-14-2013

Answer

In most cases, yes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a yearly flu (influenza) vaccine for all children 6 months and older — ideally given as soon as the vaccine is available each year.

Depending on your child's age, you might be able to choose between a flu shot and the nasal spray vaccine:

  • Flu shot. Flu shots can be given to children 6 months and older. Side effects might include soreness, redness or swelling where the shot was given, low-grade fever or muscle aches.
  • Nasal spray. The nasal spray flu vaccine can be given to children 2 years and older. Side effects might include runny nose, wheezing, headache, vomiting, muscle aches and fever.

It's also important to consider how many doses of flu vaccine your child needs:

  • Two doses. If your child hasn't had the flu vaccine before and he or she is younger than 9, plan for two doses given at least four weeks apart. Begin the process as early as possible. If your child is exposed to the flu before the second dose or isn't able to get the second dose, he or she is more likely to get the flu. If the last time your child got the flu vaccine was before the 2010-2011 flu season, he or she might also need two doses of the vaccine.
  • One dose. If your child has had the flu vaccine before — or your child gets the flu vaccine for the first time at 9 or older — one dose is enough. Timing is still important, though. It takes up to two weeks after vaccination for a child to be fully protected from the flu. The earlier your child gets the vaccine each season, the better.

Consult your child's doctor if you have questions about flu protection or wonder which type of flu vaccine would be best for your child.

Also check with your child's doctor if:

  • Your child isn't feeling well. If your child has a fever, postpone the flu vaccine until he or she recovers. If your child has a stuffy nose, ask for a flu shot rather than the nasal spray vaccine.
  • Your child recently had other vaccines. The doctor might suggest postponing the flu vaccine if your child has gotten any other vaccines in the past four weeks.
  • Your child has any medical conditions. The doctor will likely recommend a flu shot rather than the nasal spray vaccine if your child is younger than 5 and has asthma or a history of wheezing. Similarly, the nasal spray flu vaccine isn't recommended for children on long-term aspirin treatment or those who have muscle or nerve disorders, such as seizure disorders or cerebral palsy, a weak immune system, or certain other medical conditions.
  • Your child is allergic to eggs. The flu vaccine contains tiny amounts of egg protein. If your child has an egg allergy or sensitivity, he or she will likely be able to receive a flu vaccine — but you might need to take special precautions, such as waiting in the doctor's office for at least 30 minutes after vaccination in case of a reaction.
  • Your child had a severe reaction to a previous flu vaccine. The flu vaccine isn't recommended for anyone who had a severe reaction to a previous flu vaccine. Check with your child's doctor first, though. Some reactions might not be related to the vaccine.

The 2013-2014 flu vaccine offers protection from both seasonal flu and H1N1 flu (swine flu).

Keep in mind that yearly flu vaccines are also recommended for adults — especially those who have close contact with young children.