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About the Seasonal Flu Vaccine

Seasonal Flu Vaccine Recommendations

The single best way to protect against the flu is to get vaccinated each year.

The seasonal flu vaccine protects against the influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season. The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older get a seasonal flu vaccine every year. Vaccination is especially important for children younger than 5 years of age, and for children of any age with a long-term health condition such asthma, diabetes or heart disease. These children are at higher risk of serious flu-related complications.

Flu vaccine is recommended for household contacts and caregivers of children younger than 5 years of age, with particular emphasis on vaccinating contacts of children aged younger than 6 months. Vaccination is also recommended for household contacts and caregivers of any child who has a chronic health problem such as asthma or diabetes, as these children are at higher risk for serious flu-related complications. 

We offer flu vaccine for parents in our offices - please ask your pediatrician for information at your next visit. 

 

Vaccine Types and Protection

Flu Vaccine - Injection: The flu shot is an inactivated vaccine (containing killed virus) that is given with a needle, usually in the arm. The flu shot is approved for use in people older than 6 months, including healthy people and people with chronic medical conditions.

Patients who can't get the flu shot:

  • Children younger than 6 months of age (flu vaccine is not approved for this age group)
  • Children with severe, life-threatening allergies to flu vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine. This might include gelatin, antibiotics, or other ingredients. See the (*) note below regarding egg allergies and flu vaccine.

Patients who should talk to their pediatrician before getting the flu shot:

  • Children who have an allergy to eggs*
  • Children who have had a severe reaction to a flu vaccination.
  • Some children with a history of Guillain-Barre Syndrome should not receive flu vaccine. Talk to your pediatrician about your child's GBS history.
  • Children who have a moderate-to-severe illness with a fever should wait until they recover before getting vaccinated.

Children who have ever had a severe allergic reaction to eggs should get the regular flu shot given by a medical doctor with experience in management of severe allergic conditions. Children who have had a mild reaction to egg—that is, one which only involved hives—may get a flu shot with additional safety measures. Make sure your doctor or health care professional knows about any allergic reactions. Most, but not all, types of flu vaccine contain a small amount of egg.

Flu Vaccine - Intranasal: 

PHCA is following the AAP recommendation of administering injection vaccine as the primary choice for children because the effectiveness of LAIV4 (intranasal):

  • was inferior against influenza A/H1N1 during past seasons; and
  • is unknown against influenza A/H1N1 for this upcoming season

 

Special Instructions: Children Ages 6 Months to 8 Years

Some children 6 months to 8 years of age require two doses of flu vaccine during their first season of vaccination. 

  • Children 6 months through 8 years getting vaccinated for the first time
  • Children who have only previously received one dose of vaccine

All children who have previously gotten two doses of vaccine (at any time) only need one dose of vaccine this season. 

The first dose should be given as soon as vaccine becomes available, and the second dose should be given 28 more days after the first dose. The first dose “primes” the immune system; the second dose provides immune protection. Children who only get one dose but need two doses can have reduced or no protection from a single dose of flu vaccine.

If your child needs the two doses, begin the process early, so that children are protected before influenza starts circulating in your community. It usually takes about two weeks after the second dose for protection to begin.

 

When to Get Vaccinated

CDC recommends that people get their seasonal flu vaccine as soon as vaccine becomes available in their community, if possible by October. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection agains the flu. CDC continues to encourage people to get vaccinated throughout the flu season, which can begin as early as October and last as late as May. Over the course of the flu season, many different influenza viruses can circulate at different times and in different places. As long as flu viruses are still spreading in the community, vaccination can provide protective benefit.

 

Vaccine Benefits

While how well the flu vaccine works can vary, there are a lot of reasons to get a flu vaccine each year.

  • Flu vaccination can keep you from getting sick from flu. Protecting yourself from flu also protects the people around you who are more vulnerable to serious flu illness.
  • Flu vaccination can help protect people who are at greater risk of getting seriously ill from flu, like older adults, people with chronic health conditions and young children (especially infants younger than 6 months old who are too young to get vaccinated).
  • Flu vaccination also may make your illness milder if you do get sick.
  • Flu vaccination can reduce the risk of more serious flu outcomes, like hospitalizations.
    • A recent study** showed that flu vaccine reduced children’s risk of flu-related pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) admission by 74% during flu seasons from 2010-2012.
    • One study showed that flu vaccination was associated with a 71% reduction in flu-related hospitalizations among adults of all ages and a 77% reduction among adults 50 years of age and older during the 2011-2012 flu season.
    • Flu vaccination is an important preventive tool for people with chronic health conditions. Vaccination was associated with lower rates of some cardiac events among people with heart disease, especially among those who had had a cardiac event in the past year. Flu vaccination also has been shown to be associated with reduced hospitalizations among people with diabetes (79%) and chronic lung disease (52%).
  • Vaccination helps protect women during pregnancy and their babies for up to 6 months after they are born. One study showed that giving flu vaccine to pregnant women was 92% effective in preventing hospitalization of infants for flu.
  • Other studies have shown that vaccination can reduce the risk of flu-related hospitalizations in older adults. A study that looked at flu vaccine effectiveness over the course of three flu seasons estimated that flu vaccination lowered the risk of hospitalizations by 61% in people 50 years of age and older.

 

Vaccine Effectiveness

CDC conducts studies each year to determine how well the flu vaccine protects against flu illness. While vaccine effectiveness can vary, recent studies show vaccine reduces the risk of flu illness by about 50% to 60% among the overall population during seasons when most circulating flu viruses are like the vaccine viruses.

How well the flu vaccine works (or its ability to prevent flu illness) can range widely from season to season. The vaccine’s effectiveness also can vary depending on who is being vaccinated. At least two factors play an important role in determining the likelihood that flu vaccine will protect a person from flu illness: 1) characteristics of the person being vaccinated (such as their age and health), and 2) the similarity or "match" between the flu viruses the flu vaccine is designed to protect against and the flu viruses spreading in the community. During years when the flu vaccine is not well matched to circulating viruses, it’s possible that no benefit from flu vaccination may be observed. During years when there is a good match between the flu vaccine and circulating viruses, it’s possible to measure substantial benefits from vaccination in terms of preventing flu illness. However, even during years when the vaccine match is very good, the benefits of vaccination will vary across the population, depending on characteristics of the person being vaccinated and even, potentially, which vaccine was used.

 

Possible Vaccine Side Effects

A flu vaccine cannot cause flu illness.

Flu vaccines that are administered with a needle are currently made in two ways: the vaccine is made either with a) flu vaccine viruses that have been 'inactivated' and are therefore not infectious, or b) with no flu vaccine viruses at all (which is the case for recombinant influenza vaccine). The nasal spray flu vaccine does contain live viruses. However, the viruses are attenuated (weakened), and therefore cannot cause flu illness. The weakened viruses are cold-adapted, which means they are designed to only cause infection at the cooler temperatures found within the nose. The viruses cannot infect the lungs or other areas where warmer temperatures exist.

While a flu vaccine cannot give you flu illness, there are side effects that may be associated with getting a flu shot. These side effects are mild and short-lasting, especially when compared to symptoms of bad case of flu.

The flu shot: The viruses in the flu shot are killed (inactivated), so you cannot get the flu from a flu shot. Some minor side effects that may occur are:

  • Soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given
  • Fever (low grade)
  • Aches

If these problems occur, they begin soon after vaccination and are mild and short-lived. Almost all people who receive influenza vaccine have no serious problems from it. However, on rare occasions, flu vaccination can cause serious problems, such as severe allergic reactions. 

 

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Information compiled from CDC sources | Updated August 30, 2016

CDC Sources:
Key Facts About Seasonal Flu Vaccine | Page last updated: August 25, 2016

Children, the Flu, and the Flu VaccinePage last updated: August 5, 2016
Vaccine Effectiveness - How Well Does the Flu Vaccine Work? Page last updated: August 25, 2016
People at High Risk of Developing Flu-Related Complications  Page last updated: August 25, 2016
Vaccination: Who Should Do It, Who Should Not and Who Should Take PrecautionsPage last updated: August 25, 2016

**References for the studies listed above can be found at Publications on Influenza Vaccine Benefits. Also see the What are the Benefits of Flu Vaccination? fact sheet.