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Flu Center

Who Needs a Flu Shot?

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Flu Shots Protect You

Have you had a flu shot? Most kids have and there’s good reason. Like all vaccines, this one can protect you from a pretty awful illness — the flu.

No one loves shots. The good news is that the flu vaccine (say: VAK-seen) also can be given in a nasal mist (a nose spray). If you prefer it, you can ask your doctor if the nasal spray is right for you. This type of vaccine contains live flu virus, though, and shouldn’t be given to kids who have certain health problems — or even kids who live with people who could get very sick from the flu.

In a healthy person, the flu causes a fever, body aches, and other cold-like symptoms. A person who has the flu will sleep a lot and feel sick, but will get better in a week.

The problem with the flu, also called influenza (say: in-floo-EN-zuh), is that it makes some people really sick. They are less able to get well on their own so they may need to go to the hospital. That’s why a flu shot or nasal mist vaccine is recommended for just about everyone.

Who Should Get a Shot?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the flu vaccine for all people age 6 months and older.

Certain people are at higher risk of complications from the flu, including:

  • pregnant women
  • kids younger than age 5
  • people age 65 and older
  • people of any age who have long-term health conditions

Until recently, doctors recommended that kids with an egg allergy not get the flu vaccine because it is grown inside eggs. But now health experts say that because there’s just a tiny bit of egg allergen in the vaccine, the flu shot (but not the nasal mist) is safe even for people with a severe egg allergy.

Still, if you have an egg allergy or have had an allergic reaction to a flu vaccine in the past, your parent should talk with the doctor before you get a flu shot. And if you have a severe egg allergy, you might need to get your shot in an allergist’s office.

One Shot Or Two?

Kids older than 9 need only one dose.

If you are younger than 9, you will need one or two flu shots. It depends on whether you had the flu shot before and when you received those vaccinations. If you are younger than 9, you will need only one shot if you have had two doses of flu vaccine since July 2010. (Your parents and doctor can look this up and figure out if you did or not.)

If you are younger than 9, you will get two flu shots if:

  • you are getting the flu vaccine for the first time
  • you have had the flu shot before, but you have not had two doses of the flu vaccine since July 2010

If you need two shots, you’ll get the first one and then come back at least a month later for the second one. As with any shot, if you’re scared, talk with your mom or dad about it.

Here are three tricks that make shots easier to handle:

  1. Hold a parent’s hand.
  2. Make your arm go loose like spaghetti before the shot goes in.
  3. Cough as you’re getting the shot. (Some kids say they don’t feel the pinch when they do this.)

When Do You Get a Flu Vaccine?

If you’re getting a flu vaccine, it’s best to get it in the fall, before “flu season.” Flu season starts in October and usually ends in May. December, January, and February are typically the worst months for flu, when the most people have it and you’re most likely to get it.

You may have heard about shortages of the flu vaccine in the past. When shortages occur, health experts sometimes recommend a priority system. That means the people most in danger from the flu get their vaccines first and other people get theirs later.

What’s in a Flu Vaccine?

Influenza is a virus (say: VY-rus). The flu vaccine helps your body get ready to defend itself against that virus in case it tries to invade your body.

The flu vaccine contains a small amount of the flu viruses. But the flu vaccine won’t give you the flu. The vaccine lets your body get ready to fight off the real flu during flu season.

New Year, New Vaccine

To be protected against the flu, you have to get the vaccine in a shot or nose spray every year. Unlike some other illnesses, like chickenpox, the flu virus keeps changing. The vaccine needs to change to keep up with the types of flu viruses that are expected to cause problems that year.

Each year, doctors and scientists who study the flu try to predict which viruses will make people sick during the next flu season. Then they make the vaccine out of a mixture of the most likely viruses.

After the Shot

The flu shot is safe and most people have no problems with it. Occasionally, the spot where you got the shot might feel sore. After the flu shot, some people might feel achy or have a mild fever, but that’s nothing like the flu, which can make you sick for 1 or 2 weeks. If you get the nasal mist, you might get a runny nose, headache, wheezing, or vomiting.

Whether you get the flu shot or the nose spray, you can take another important step toward preventing the flu and other winter illnesses: Wash your hands regularly. When you do, you wash away those nasty germs that end up making you sick!

Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: September 2013