Flu season runs from October to May, with most cases happening from late December to early March. But the flu vaccine is usually offered from September until mid-November. Getting vaccinated before the flu season is in full force gives the body a chance to build up immunity to (protection from) the virus.
Even though it's best to get vaccinated as soon as the flu vaccine is available, getting the vaccine later can still be helpful. Even as late as January, there are still a few months left in the flu season, so it's still a good idea to get protected.
The flu vaccine is recommended for everyone age 6 months and older. It's especially important for people who are at greater risk of developing health problems from the flu to get vaccinated. They include:
Kids under 9 years old who are getting the flu vaccine for the first time will receive two separate doses at least a month apart. Those under 9 who have received the flu vaccine before still might need two doses if they did not receive at least two vaccines since July 2010, or if the number of doses they've received since July 2010 is unknown. This is to ensure that all kids are vaccinated against the H1N1 flu strain that surfaced in 2009. Kids older than 9 years old only need one dose of the vaccine.
It can take 1 to 2 weeks for the flu vaccine to become effective, so it's best to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
Different types of vaccines are available. One type (called trivalent) protects against three strains of the flu virus (usually, two types of influenza A viruses and one influenza B virus). Another (called quadrivalent) protects against four strains.
The vaccine can be given to kids in two different ways: by injection with a needle (the flu shot), or sprayed into the nostrils (nasal spray or nasal mist).
Both ways of delivering the vaccine are effective, but recent studies show that the nasal spray may work better in younger children. So experts recommend that healthy kids 2 to 8 years old get the nasal spray vaccine when available. If it's not available, the flu shot should be given (kids should not wait for the nasal spray to get vaccinated). The nasal spray isn't recommended for kids with certain medical conditions or pregnant women.
Some vaccines are approved only for adults at this time, such as egg-free vaccines and intradermal shots, which are injected into the skin (instead of muscle) with a smaller needle.
Certain things might prevent a person from getting the vaccine. Talk to your doctor to see if the vaccine is still recommended if your child:
In the past, it was recommended that anyone with an egg allergy talk to a doctor about whether receiving the flu vaccine was safe because it is grown inside eggs. But health experts now say that the amount of egg allergen in the vaccine is so tiny that it (but not the nasal mist) is safe even for kids with a severe egg allergy. This is especially important during a severe flu season.
Still, a child with an egg allergy should get the flu shot in a doctor's office, not at a supermarket, drugstore, or other venue. And if the allergy is severe, it might need to be given in an allergist's office.
If your child is sick and has a fever, talk to your doctor about rescheduling the flu vaccine.
Most people do not have any side effects from the flu shot. Some have soreness or swelling at the site of the shot or mild side effects, such as headache or low-grade fever.
Some people who get the nasal spray vaccine may develop mild flu-like symptoms, including runny nose, headache, vomiting, muscle aches, and fever.
The flu vaccine is available at:
If you have an HMO insurance plan, be sure to check with your primary care doctor before having your kids vaccinated outside the office, since most HMOs will pay for shots only if they're given through their plan.
The flu vaccine is covered by Medicare for senior citizens and is generally covered by insurance for people in other high-risk groups. Otherwise, the vaccine may cost anywhere from $10 to $50.
Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: February 2015
|Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) The CDC (the national public health institute of the United States) promotes health and quality of life by preventing and controlling disease, injury, and disability.|
|American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) The AAP is committed to the health and well-being of infants, adolescents, and young adults. The website offers news articles and tips on health for families.|
|Immunization Action Coalition This organization is a source of childhood, adolescent, and adult immunization information as well as hepatitis B educational materials.|
|CDC: Pre-teen and Teen Vaccines CDC site provides materials in English and Spanish for parents, teens, pre-teens, and health care providers about vaccines and the diseases they prevent.|
|CDC: Flu (Influenza) The CDC's site has up-to-date information on flu outbreaks, immunizations, symptoms, prevention, and more.|
|Flu Center The flu can make you sick for a week or more. Find out how to get protected from the influenza virus.|
|Is It a Cold or the Flu? Your child is sent home from school with a sore throat, cough, and high fever - could it be the flu that's been going around? Or is it just a common cold? Find out here!|
|Flu Center Get the basics on how flu spreads and how to protect yourself.|
|Flu Center Learn all about protecting your family from the flu and what to do if your child gets flu-like symptoms.|
|The Flu Vaccine Doctors recommend that all teens get vaccinated against the flu. The good news is, it doesn't have to be a shot. Here are the facts on flu vaccines.|
|Flu The flu is a virus that can make you sick for a week or longer. Find out more in this article for kids.|
|5 Tips for Surviving Shots If you're afraid of shots, you're not alone. Next time your doc asks you to roll up your sleeve, try these tips.|
|Who Needs a Flu Shot? Just about everybody needs a flu shot. Find out more in this article for kids.|
|5 Ways to Fight the Flu Get tips for fending off the flu in this article for teens.|
|Influenza (Flu) Flu symptoms tend to develop quickly and are usually more severe than the typical sneezing and stuffiness of a cold. Yearly vaccination is the best protection against the flu.|
|Tips for Treating the Flu Here are some quick tips for helping your child get over the flu.|
|What to Do if You Get the Flu If you have the flu, you'll want to do all you can to feel better. Find out more in this article for kids.|
|What to Do if You Get the Flu You've probably heard warnings about flu season. If you do get the flu this year, read this article on how to feel better.|
|Is the Flu Vaccine a Good Idea for Your Family? The flu itself generally isn't dangerous, but its complications can be. That's why it's important for you and your doctor to determine whether your family can and should get the flu vaccine.|
|Your Child's Immunizations: Influenza Vaccine Find out when and why your child needs to get this vaccine.|
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