Getting a Flu Shot: What Families Need to Know

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Over the years, as a pediatric nurse, I’ve learned there are always a lot of questions about the flu shot and kids--and lots of excuses too. Here, answers to the most common questions I have heard.

1. When should my family receive a flu shot?

Now is a good time: Flu experts tell us it takes about two to three weeks for an individual’s body to build up antibodies for influenza.  Flu season can begin as early as October, but usually peaks in January and February and can last into May. 

2. Why should everyone get this vaccine?

The flu is a miserable illness. Healthy adults who are infected with the flu are often unable to work, have a difficult time caring for families, and most importantly can spread the flu to others. Adults over age 65 are at most risk for flu related deaths.  Depending on the year and the flu strain, sometimes the flu will affect children more seriously. For instance, babies ages 6 months and younger need to have a “cocoon” of protection around them since they are too young to receive the vaccine. That means anyone who has close contact with an infant should be immunized against the flu (parents, grandparents, siblings, and daycare providers). Pregnant women are also more at risk for complications from the flu. That said, the flu vaccine is safe during pregnancy, and it protects your unborn child and your baby after birth. When healthy adults are vaccinated, they are protecting themselves, the elderly, the chronically ill, and babies.  So, I always tell people to take one for the team.

3. Why do we need a flu vaccine every year?

Flu vaccines change since studies are conducted to try to predict what flu viruses will be most prevalent each year. So, the vaccine differs from year to year.  Even if you had influenza last year, your immunity will fade over time.  The flu vaccine serves as a boost to our immune system to help prevent the flu and protect us from the “flu strain of the year.” 

4. Can I get the flu from the flu vaccine?

Since the vaccine contains an inactive virus, you cannot get the flu. 

5. Who receives two doses of the flu shot?

All children between 6 months and 8 years who have never had a flu vaccine will need 2 doses at least 4 weeks apart.  If your baby turns 6 months old during the flu season, he or she should receive the vaccine.  If your child is older than 8 years old or had two doses in prior years, then he will only need one dose of the flu vaccine.

-- By Cindy Love, CPNP
   Indiana University Health 

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