Who Needs a Flu Shot?
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.
There are two types of flu vaccines:
- A shot, given with a needle: This is the type that doctors recommend for all kids, because it has been shown to be safe and to work well.
- A spray mist, given into the nose: This type wasn't offered in recent years, because it didn't work as well as the shot. For the 2018–2019 flu season, doctors are recommending it as an option if a kid can't get the shot (for example, if the doctor's office has run out).
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.
The problem with the flu, also called influenza (say: in-floo-EN-zuh), is that it makes 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.
Some people have a higher risk of problems from the flu. It's especially important that these people (and those who live with them) get vaccinated. They include:
- 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 shot because it's 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 is safe even for people with a severe egg allergy.
Still, if you have an egg allergy, you should get your shot in your doctor's office, not at a supermarket or drugstore.
One Dose or Two?
Kids older than 9 need only one dose.
Are you younger than 9? You need one dose of the flu vaccine if:
- you have received the flu vaccine at least two times in your lifetime
A kid younger than 9 needs two doses if:
- this is your first time ever getting the flu vaccine
- you had the flu vaccine before but only got one dose
Kids who need two doses will get the first one and then come back at least a month later for the second one.
Are you scared of getting a shot? Talk with your mom or dad about it. They've most likely had lots of shots in their lives and know exactly how you feel.
Here are three tricks that 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 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 usually the worst months for flu, when the most people have it and you're most likely to get it.
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 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 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.
Once 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!