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Medications

Flu Vaccine for Children

Updated for the 2020-2021 flu season

A flu vaccine is the best protection against the flu (influenza) for your child and other family members. The vaccine is given to your child in the form of a shot (injection) or nasal spray. Talk with your child's healthcare provider about which vaccine is best for your child. It’s best to get vaccinated each year, as soon as the vaccine is available in your area. This can be at your healthcare provider's office, health clinic, or pharmacy. If you have questions, talk with your child’s healthcare provider.

Healthcare provider giving girl injection in arm while woman with baby looks on.

Flu facts

  • The virus in the flu vaccine has been killed (inactivated) or greatly weakened and won’t give your child the flu.

  • The flu is caused by a virus. It can’t be treated with antibiotics.

  • The flu can be life threatening. Every year, thousands of people die from complications of the flu.

  • Influenza is not the same as stomach flu, the 24-hour bug that causes vomiting and diarrhea. Stomach flu is most likely caused by a gastrointestinal infection, not the flu.

  • Flu vaccines are safe for most children. If you have questions or concerns, talk with your child’s healthcare provider.

How a flu vaccine protects your child

There are many types (strains) of flu viruses. Medical experts predict which strains are most likely to make people sick each year. Flu vaccines are made from these strains. With the shot, killed (inactivated) flu viruses are injected into your child’s body. The nasal spray contains a greatly weakened version of the virus. The vaccines prompt the body to make antibodies to fight these flu strains.

Some children may get mild symptoms after a flu vaccine. These may include a runny nose, fever, or pain at the injection site for a day or two. Symptoms can be managed with children’s strength over-the-counter (OTC) medicines. Always talk with your child’s healthcare provider before using OTC medicines.

  • Don’t give OTC cough and cold medicines to a child younger than age 6, unless your child's provider tells you to do so.

  • Don’t give your child aspirin.

  • Don’t give ibuprofen to an infant age 6 months or younger.

Who should get the flu vaccine?

The CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend that all children 6 months and older get vaccinated, with some exceptions. The vaccine is most often given by a shot into the muscle. The number of doses of flu vaccine depends on the child's age and vaccine history. Two doses are needed for children 6 months to 8 years who are getting their first flu vaccine.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the CDC and AAP strongly advise getting a flu vaccine during 2020-2021 to protect yourself, your family, and others. Flu viruses and the COVID-19 virus are both likely to spread during flu season. A flu vaccine will help save medical resources to care for people with COVID-19. People at high risk for complications from the flu are also likely to be at high risk for serious problems from COVID-19, so it's important to get a flu vaccine.

A nasal spray made of live but weakened flu virus is available for healthy children 2 years and older who don't want the flu shot.

Children younger than 6 months of age are too young to get the flu vaccine.

Some conditions may prevent your child from being vaccinated. Talk with your child's healthcare provider if you are concerned about whether your child should get the flu vaccine. Children may not be able to get a flu shot if they:

  • Have had severe allergic reactions to previous flu vaccines

  • Have had Guillain-Barré syndrome within 6 weeks of a previous flu vaccine. This is a serious condition that can cause paralysis.

© 2000-2020 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.