The flu vaccine can help keep you from getting the flu (influenza).
Flu is caused by a virus. When you have the flu, the virus is in your mucus and saliva and can spread to others when you cough or sneeze. People can also get the flu if they touch something with the flu virus on it (like cups, doorknobs, and hands) and then touch their mouth, nose, or eyes.
Outbreaks of flu occur every year, usually in late fall and winter. Flu symptoms tend to start suddenly.
If your child is age 6 months or older, he should get a flu vaccine every year, before the start of flu season. It’s important to try to prevent flu for several reasons:
Flu season usually starts in October and may last through May. It takes about 2 weeks before the flu vaccine can fully protect your child against the flu. The vaccine is changed each year to protect against the kinds of flu virus that are expected to be most common during the next flu season. Your child can still get the vaccine after the flu season starts to help protect your child against the flu.
The flu vaccine can be given as a nasal spray or as a shot in the arm. The nasal spray is not recommended for the 2016-2017 flu season because it has not prevented the disease for the last 3 years.
The vaccine exposes your child’s immune system to the flu virus. The immune system is the body’s defense against infection. Your child’s body reacts to the vaccine by making special cells (antibodies) that can fight the virus.
The vaccine itself will not give your child the flu. However, if your child was exposed to the flu just before getting the vaccine, he may still get sick. If your child does get the flu after getting the vaccine, he will not get as sick as he would have without the vaccine.
There are two flu shots available for children. One protects against 3 strains of flu and the other protects against 4 strains of the flu. Both are available for children age 6 months and older.
Ask your healthcare provider which flu vaccine is right for your child. Some children between the ages of 6 months and 9 years need 2 doses of the flu vaccine. Your child’s healthcare provider can tell you if 2 doses are recommended for your child.
Adults and children 6 months or older should get the flu vaccine. This is especially important for young children and children with chronic health problems.
Some children should not get the flu vaccine. Talk with your child’s healthcare provider before your child gets the vaccine if your child:
It’s OK to get the vaccine if your child has a cold.
Thimerosal is a preservative used in some flu shots. Thimerosal-free vaccine is available if your child is allergic to thimerosal or you are concerned about its safety. The nasal flu vaccine does not contain thimerosal.
You cannot get the flu from the flu vaccine. The flu vaccine can sometimes cause minor side effects, such as:
These symptoms may start a few hours after the vaccination and last a day or two.
Serious problems from the flu vaccine, such as severe allergic reactions, are very rare.