Children are at higher risk for serious flu-related complications. Getting the flu vaccine is the best way to protect your child and family against influenza during “flu” season (usually November-March). Getting the vaccine can reduce flu illnesses, keep you and your child from missing school and work, and prevent flu-related hospitalizations and deaths in children. This handout will discuss why it is so important to get the yearly flu vaccine and address common myths about the flu vaccine.

What is the Flu?

Influenza, or “the flu,” is a specific viral illness that causes sudden development of the following symptoms:

  • High fevers and chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Headaches
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Tiredness

The flu lasts longer and makes you feel much sicker than the common cold. It can also lead to more serious illnesses, like pneumonia (fluid build-up in the lungs). The flu is contagious. This means it can spread easily from person to person through sneezing, coughing or touching shared surfaces, like doorknobs or keyboards.

The Flu Vaccine Can Be Life-Saving!

The flu can cause serious illness. It is rare, but some children die from the flu each year. In June 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 172 pediatric flu-related deaths in the United States for the 2017-2018 flu season. About 8 out of 10 of these deaths occurred in children who did not receive a flu vaccine that season. Half of the children who died were healthy, without a condition that put them at higher risk. Getting the flu vaccine may make your illness milder even if you do get sick from the flu.

Who Should Get the Flu Vaccine and When?

The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older get a seasonal flu vaccine. Children under age 5 and children with underlying health problems like asthma, heart disease, diabetes, sickle cell disease or cerebral palsy have an even higher risk for flu-related complications.

You and your family should get the flu vaccine every year as soon as it becomes available (best before the end of October). It takes about 2 weeks for the vaccine to start working. Protection from the flu vaccine decreases over time. For your best chance in the fight against the flu, you should get a flu vaccine every year.

Children age 6 months to 8 years require 2 doses the first year they receive the vaccine. They should receive the second dose 28 days after the first dose or as soon as possible after that.

Can the Flu Vaccine Give You the Flu?

A flu vaccine cannot give you the flu. The flu vaccine is made from a killed (inactivated) virus that cannot cause infection. The most common side effects from the vaccine are soreness, redness and tenderness at the injection site. Low-grade fever, headache and muscle aches may also occur. These side effects are NOT flu. These symptoms are usually mild and short when compared to a bad case of the flu.

Is the Flu Vaccine Safe?

The flu vaccine is safe. Flu vaccines are among the safest medical products in use. The CDC and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) closely check the safety of vaccines approved for use in the US.

My Child Got the Flu Vaccine and Still Got Sick. Why is That?

There are a few possible reasons a child can get sick after the flu vaccine:

  • A child may get flu before the vaccine starts to work. It usually takes about 2 weeks to work.
  • It is possible to get sick from a flu virus strain (type) that is not in the vaccine you receive that year. The vaccine is made before flu season. It is matched to what doctors think will be the most common virus strains that will spread that year.
  • It is possible to catch other illnesses that cause flu-like symptoms. The flu vaccine only protects against the flu.

My Child Has Never Gotten the Flu Vaccine. Why Get It This Year?

Your child can be exposed to the flu and can get very sick from it anytime during flu season. More children get the flu each year than people of any other age group. Children share close spaces in daycares and schools. Parents and other family members can bring the flu home to children.

What Can Our Family Do to Prevent the Spread of the Flu?

  • Get vaccinated. Encourage everyone in your family to do the same!
  • Avoid close contact with sick people.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Disinfect surfaces and objects that may be covered with germs.
  • If you get the flu or think you or your child has it, discuss with your doctor whether an antiviral drug is recommended.

Where Can I Schedule a Flu Vaccine?

Most pediatric offices offer flu vaccine clinics during the flu season. Call your child’s pediatrician for schedule information.

For more information about where adults can get the flu shot at MGH and/or in your community:

© 2018 MGfC CARMA. Rev. 9/2018. This document is intended to provide health related information so that you may be better informed. It is not a substitute for a doctor's medical advice and should not be relied upon for treatment for specific medical conditions.