All children between 2 and 11 years of age (year 7) should receive the children's flu vaccine. This is not only to stop them getting unwell with flu, but also to stop them spreading flu to other members of your family. If your child is at school, the school will arrange for them to be vaccinated.
This year, it is especially important that your child receives their flu vaccine. By being vaccinated, your child is less likely to develop a flu-like illness (cough/fever). If your child develops such symptoms this winter, they will be excluded from nursery or school until they have a negative COVID-19 test (through the test and trace system). In addition, if they get flu, they may need treatment in hospital and/or may transmit flu to other family members who may become unwell (children are super-spreaders of flu).
There are other groups of children with long-term health conditions that should have the flu vaccine every year. This includes children with weakened immune systems (including those on steroids or with problems with their spleen), chronic heart or lung problems, diabetes, asthma, chronic kidney or liver disease. It is especially important that these children are vaccinated because they have the greatest risk of becoming very unwell if they get flu. Children aged from 6 months to 2 years who are at risk from complications of flu should be given the inactivated (injected) flu vaccine rather than the intranasal vaccine.
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Common myths about flu and the flu vaccine
'Flu isn't serious, so my child doesn't need a flu vaccine' and 'My children never get ill, so they don't need the vaccine'
It is tempting to think that flu is no worse than a bad cold, but in fact it is a serious disease which can infect anyone. Although most children do not become severely unwell with flu, in children with other medical conditions (heart or lung problems or weakened immune systems), flu can lead to hospitalisation or even death. In addition, children are superspreaders of flu, which means that even if they are mildly affected, they can easily infect other family members, such as grandparents or people with medical conditions who may become extremely unwell.
'My child is outside of the age range for routinely receiving the flu vaccine. Should I arrange for them to have it anyway?'
Although it is recommended that all children between 2 years of age and up to the 1st year of secondary school (year 7) have the flu vaccine, there are a large number of children outside of this age range that should also have it. This is because they have medical conditions that mean that they are at higher risk of getting severe infection if they are infected with flu. This includes children with:
- Respiratory (lung) diseases, including asthma
- Heart disease, kidney disease or liver disease
- Neurological (brain or nerve) conditions including learning disability
- Diabetes (see a short film of a woman with Type 1 diabetes talking about why she gets the flu vaccine)
- A severely weakened immune system (immunosuppression), a missing spleen, sickle cell anaemia or coeliac disease
- Being seriously overweight (BMI of 40 and above)
If your child falls into any of these categories and is not due to have their flu vaccine at school, please book them in to your GP practice to have it given (pharmacies are unable to give the flu vaccine to children).
'The nasal spray that children get is a live vaccine - I'm worried that if my child has it they will infect relatives/grandparents'
There is no evidence that healthy unvaccinated people can catch flu from the nasal flu spray (either from airborne spray droplets in the room where the vaccine is given, or from vaccinated individuals ‘shedding’ the virus).
It is known that vaccinated children shed the virus for a few days after vaccination (through sneezing or coughing). However, the vaccine virus is weakened (it is “cold adapted” which means it dies at 37°C), so cannot infect the lungs and so it is much less able to spread from person to person. The amount of virus that children shed is normally below the levels needed to pass on infection to others. The virus does not survive for long outside the body.
It is therefore not necessary for children to be excluded from school during the period when the vaccine is being given. The only exception is the very small number of children who are extremely immunocompromised (for example, those who have just had a bone marrow transplant).
'Last year my children had the flu vaccine but they got ill anyway, so it doesn't work'
No vaccine is 100% effective, including the flu vaccine. However, the vaccine usually prevents about half of all flu cases. For people who get flu after being vaccinated, the disease is often less severe than it would have been. It is important to remember that the flu vaccine only protects against flu, but there are other illnesses which have flu-like symptoms which you can still catch after getting the flu vaccine. It takes up to two weeks for the vaccine to take effect, so you could still catch flu if you are exposed to the virus during this time. Getting vaccinated as early as possible in the season can help to prevent this.
Use this video to explain to your child why they are having the flu vaccine