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 (instead of just certain groups, as was recommended before). But it's especially important that those in higher-risk groups get vaccinated. They include:
- all kids 6 months through 4 years old
- anyone 65 years and older
- women who will be pregnant during flu season
- anyone whose weakened 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
- health care personnel who have direct contact with patients
- caregivers or household contacts of anyone in a high-risk group (like children younger than 6 months)
- Native Americans and Alaskan Natives
Certain circumstances would 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)
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, such as the current one, which started earlier and has been much worse than in years past.
Still, if your child has an egg allergy, he or she 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.
Those who don't like shots might be able to get the vaccine in a nasal spray. Your doctor can tell you if this is an option for you or your kids.