The Flu Vaccine
Flu Vaccines Protect You
Have you had a flu shot? Most kids have and there's good reason. Like all vaccines (say: VAK-seens), this one can protect you from a pretty awful illness — the flu.
The flu is caused by 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.
There are 2 types of flu vaccines:
- a shot, given with a needle
- a spray mist, given into the nose
For the 2023–2024 flu season, both types seem to work well. You should get whatever type of vaccine your doctor suggests. Some kids can't get the spray mist, such as those with weak immune systems or some medical conditions like asthma.
What Are the Signs of the Flu?
In most people, 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.
But the flu, also called influenza (say: in-floo-EN-zuh), can make some people really sick. They may even need to go to the hospital. That's why a flu vaccine is recommended for just about everyone.
Who Should Get a Flu Vaccine?
Health experts recommend the flu vaccine for all people age 6 months and older.
Until recently, doctors recommended that kids with an egg allergy not get the flu vaccine because it's grown inside eggs. But now health experts say that because there's only a tiny bit of egg protein in the vaccine, it's safe even for people with a severe egg allergy.
One Dose or Two?
Here's what the vaccine means for most kids:
- Kids older than 9 need only 1 dose.
- Are you younger than 9?
- You will need 2 doses if this is your first time getting the vaccine, or if you've only had 1 dose in the past. You'll get the first dose and then come back at least a month later to get the second one.
- You will need only 1 dose if you've gotten the flu vaccine at least twice in the past. (Your parents and doctor can look this up.)
Are you scared of getting a shot? Talk with your parent about it. They've most likely had lots of shots in their lives and know exactly how you feel.
Here are some ways to make shots easier to handle:
- Hold a parent's hand.
- Make your arm go loose like cooked spaghetti before the shot goes in.
- Cough as you're getting the shot. (Some kids say they don't feel the pinch when they do this.)
When Do You Get the Flu Vaccine?
Flu vaccines are usually given in the fall, before flu season starts. It's best to get it before the end of October. Flu season — the months of the year when a lot of people have the flu and it's easy to catch it — usually starts in October and ends in May. You can get the flu vaccine at the same time as the COVID-19 vaccine.
New Year, New Vaccine
To be protected against the flu, you have to get the vaccine 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 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 to protect us from the most likely viruses.
After the Vaccine
The flu vaccine is safe, and most people have no problems with it. After getting the flu shot, the spot where you got it might feel sore. Some people might feel achy or have a mild fever. The nasal spray might cause mild flu-like symptoms. But those problems are nothing like the flu, which can make you sick for 1 or 2 weeks.
After you get your flu shot, you can take another important step toward preventing the flu and other winter illnesses: Wash your hands well and often. When you do, you wash away those nasty germs that end up making you sick!
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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Images sourced by The Nemours Foundation and Getty Images.