Flu Vaccines and Kids
A CDC expert explains why your child needs the flu vaccine, how many doses to get, and when.
Q: Are there any reasons why a child who's old enough should not get the flu vaccine?
A: The main contraindication for the flu vaccine is a severe allergic reaction to anything that is in the flu vaccine. One possibility is egg [allergy], because all of the flu vaccines that are available in this country are manufactured through a process that uses chicken eggs, so the vaccine is most likely going to have a very, very trace quantity of egg protein left in it.
The CDC has recommended that if a child's egg allergy is a mild one -- meaning the child only experiences hives as a reaction -- they may be given the flu vaccine with precautions: Things like being observed for 30 minutes to make sure they don't have a severe reaction. We recommend that they get the shot rather than the nasal spray because there's more published data about children with egg allergy for the shot.
For those who have a more severe egg allergy -- shortness of breath or any other symptom that may indicate something more serious -- we recommend that they consult with a specialist who's familiar with allergies before they receive the vaccine.
There are other things in the flu vaccine that people can potentially be allergic to, so a history of having had a severe allergic reaction to the vaccine itself or any of its components would be a contraindication.
Q: How can parents protect babies younger than 6 months from the flu?
A: The best way to protect those children is getting the flu vaccine yourself. The people who are in close contact with babies and take care of them should do their best not to get sick themselves and hopefully not transmit it.
Q: Does a flu shot given to a pregnant woman protect the newborn baby later on?
A: There have been studies showing that newborns do have some protection from mothers' vaccinations.
Q: How many doses of the flu vaccine does my child need, and how long should we wait between doses?
A: Children from 6 months to 8 years getting the flu vaccine for the first time need to get two doses in order to maximize having a good immune response. This year, because the composition of flu vaccine is the same as last year's, we are recommending that children who received one dose last year (instead of the recommended two) need only one this year, rather than the previously recommended two.
If it's your child's first time, she still needs two doses. Or if you don't know what your child got before --- if it's not documented anywhere -- [get] two doses.
This year, we also recommend that children who did not get at least one dose of the 2010-2011 vaccine receive two doses, even if they received two doses in some season prior to 2010-2011.
The doses should be at least four weeks apart.