The answer for 2011 is “yes” for everyone older than 6 months of age — and as early as possible. Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that all children and adolescents be immunized against influenza. Immunization is especially important for children with chronic illnesses such as asthma.
This year’s seasonal flu vaccine is identical to last year’s vaccine and contains the three strains of influenza virus most likely to spread between October 2011 and March 2012.
Flu a Danger Even for Healthy Kids
While many people believe that healthy children can withstand a bout of flu, about half of the children who died last year from influenza were previously healthy and did not have an underlying medical condition. Despite the recommendation that all children over the age of 6 months be vaccinated against influenza, many of these deaths occurred in children who did not receive an influenza vaccination. This is unfortunate, as vaccination is the single most important influenza prevention measure.
It’s wise to schedule your child’s or teen’s flu vaccination as soon as the vaccine becomes available — generally early each fall — to ensure protection when flu season starts. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for immune protection to begin.
“It is especially important to begin the vaccine process early if children need two doses of vaccine,” notes Charles Foster, MD, a Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital infectious disease specialist.
Boosting Your Child’s Protection
For younger children, the number of doses is important. “A single dose of the flu vaccine may not fully protect children younger than 9 years,” says Dr. Foster. “A second ‘booster’ dose is recommended the first year a child gets vaccinated.”
Why a booster? Because children who get only one dose but need two doses may not be protected against flu. “Although this year’s influenza vaccine is identical to last years, it is still important to get vaccinated this year,” he adds. “Immunity from vaccination declines over time, so for optimal protection it is important to get vaccinated yearly.”
Figuring Out What Your Child Needs
The number of trivalent seasonal influenza vaccine doses your child will require depends on the child’s age and vaccine history. All children 6 months and older should get vaccinated against influenza.
Children age 9 and older need only one dose regardless of whether they have received earlier doses of influenza vaccine. Children younger than 9 receiving trivalent seasonal influenza vaccine for the first time this season need a second dose (at least 4 weeks after the first).
Children younger than 9 who received just one dose of trivalent seasonal vaccine for the first time last season need two doses of trivalent influenza vaccine this year (at least four weeks apart).
If you have any questions about how many flu shots your child needs, talk to your pediatrician or family doctor.
Good News for Healthy Kids 2 and Up
For children age 2 or older who are otherwise healthy, another option may be available: nasal flu mist instead of a flu shot. The flu mist is a live attenuated influenza vaccine given as a nasal spray.
“If your child is younger than 2 or if your child has a chronic medical problem, such as asthma or diabetes, then he or she will need the flu shot,” says Dr. Foster.
This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 9/26/2011.