Flu shots for kids: A pediatrician answers parents’ questions

It’s time to get flu shots for kids. Pediatricians are gearing up for the upcoming flu season, which typically runs from October through May.

Pediatricians at Norton Children’s Medical Group, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, are gearing up for the upcoming flu season, which typically runs from October through May. 

Although influenza rates were lower than usual last year, likely due to pandemic precautions, the flu and other respiratory viruses are expected to rise this year, as schools and students return to many of their usual pre-pandemic activities.

The COVID-19 virus continues to circulate in the community and pediatricians are urging families to get their kids vaccinated for flu. In newly released guidelines, the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommends children receive their flu vaccinations by the end of October. This includes all eligible kids ages 6 months and older.

Even otherwise healthy children can end up in the hospital with flu. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), during the 2021-2022 flu season, only 55% of children were vaccinated against influenza. About 80% of pediatric flu deaths occur in children who are not vaccinated.

Patients at highest risk for complications from the flu include those with lung conditions from being born prematurely, those with asthma or those with reactive airway disease, a condition where asthma is suspected but not yet confirmed. Those with neurologic and neurodevelopmental conditions such as seizures or cerebral palsy are also at risk, as are those with chronic medical conditions like obesity, diabetes or a history of immunosuppression.

Flu symptoms in kids

Seasonal influenza can cause mild to severe illness. Common symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • Fatigue

The best protection you can give to your child to prevent the flu is a flu vaccine. While the flu vaccine is not 100% effective, any protection against the flu is better than no protection. This year’s vaccine for children offers protection against four of the major influenza strains (flu A and flu B) expected to circulate this season.

Norton Children’s Medical Group

Who should get a flu shot?

  • All children ages 6 months and older
  • All caregivers and household contacts to help provide protection for those who can’t receive influenza vaccine due to age (less than 6 months) or those with high-risk medical conditions

When should my child get a flu shot?

  • The CDC recommends vaccinating as soon as flu vaccine is available (or whenever eligible in the case of infants less than 6 months of age).
  • Although peak flu season is January through March, flu season can start in early October.
  • Typically, the flu vaccine takes two weeks before it is effective. It is important to vaccinate before influenza is known to be circulating in the community.
  • Children who are eligible may receive a flu vaccine and COVID-19 vaccine at the same time.

How many flu shot doses does my child need?

  • Children 6 months to 8 years old who are receiving influenza vaccine for the first time or who have received only one dose before July 1, 2022 should receive two doses of influenza vaccine. The second dose should be given at least four weeks after the initial dose.
  • All children ages 9 and older, or younger children who have received at least two doses prior to July 1, 2022, need only one dose of influenza vaccine for this flu season.
  • A child may receive the flu vaccine in the form of a shot in the arm (or leg) or spray in the nose.

Justin M. Morgan, M.D., FAAP, is a pediatrician with Norton Children’s Medical Group.