Children getting flu shotAs we settle into a new school year and the arrival of autumn, it’s important to start thinking about the upcoming flu season and how to best prepare and protect your family against infection and severe illness. The flu season in the U.S. typically peaks between December and February but is impacted by how actively the influenza virus circulates within communities. Flu season can begin as early as September and last through the beginning of May. While the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend the flu vaccine, many parents have additional questions about the vaccine. Shariar Akter, MD, pediatrician at Children’s Memorial Hermann Pediatrics Sugar Land, answers the top 5 questions families typically ask when it comes to the flu.

Q: Why should children receive the flu vaccine?

A: We recommend that all children who are eligible should get the flu vaccine to help protect themselves and those around them, especially vulnerable individuals such as young babies, elderly adults and the immunocompromised, which include people undergoing treatment for cancer. This vulnerable population is at a higher risk of developing severe complications or dying from the flu. Children who are vaccinated are not only protecting themselves by reducing the likelihood of serious illness or death if they become infected, but they are also protecting others by reducing community transmission and spread of the virus. In addition, children who get the flu shot are less likely to get the flu, which means they will be less likely to miss school or daycare, and parents are less likely to miss work because  of a flu infection in the household. Flu shots can be given to all children ages 6 months and older, and the nasal flu vaccine can be given to children ages 2 and older. However, we do not recommend the nasal spray vaccine for children with underlying conditions, particularly those with asthma or recent wheezing episodes.

Q: Are there any side effects for children who get the flu vaccine?

A: The side effects after the flu vaccine are relatively minor. For the flu shot, most patients will experience a sore arm for a few days in the location where the shot was administered. This could be accompanied by redness or swelling at the site. Some children may also experience a headache, fever, nausea or muscle aches, but these are typically minor. Children who receive the nasal vaccine may develop a runny nose, some wheezing, a headache, vomiting or muscle aches, but these are also not common and will self-resolve within a few days

As a pediatrician who has seen some of my younger patients develop severe complications from the flu, I cannot stress enough that the protection your child receives from the immunization vastly outweighs the minor side effects your child may experience after his or her vaccine.

Q: Can children receive the flu and COVID-19 vaccines at the same time?

A: Yes. It is safe for your child to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at the same visit as any other routine vaccinations, including the annual flu vaccine.

Q: How bad will the flu season be this year for children?

A: It is hard to predict how bad a flu season will be each year, but the CDC monitors influenza across the world year-round to help inform their predictions ahead of each season. In Australia, the flu season is flipped with ours and runs the course of their winter (our summer), so we often look to their numbers as a predictor of what may come our way. Unfortunately, Australia experienced higher than normal flu numbers this year, which may indicate the U.S. could have a bad flu season. Although many factors will contribute to whether our season mimics their surge in cases, we know that the best action all of us can take is to get vaccinated this year. We recommend getting vaccinated before the end of October for the greatest protection throughout flu season.

Q: Can the flu vaccine give my child the flu?

A: No, the flu vaccine cannot infect your child with the flu. The flu shot is made with either a killed version of the flu virus or with only a single gene from the flu virus, both of which will produce an immune response but cannot result in an infection. The nasal spray flu vaccine also cannot cause the flu. Although it contains a weakened form of the virus (rather than an inactivated or “killed” form), the form has been cold-adapted and is unable to survive and multiply inside the lungs, meaning it will not be able to infect your child.

For more information about the flu, click here or talk with your family’s health care provider.

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