Children, the Flu, and the Flu Vaccine
Influenza is dangerous for children
Influenza (“the flu”) is more dangerous than the common cold for children. Each year, many children get sick with seasonal influenza; some of those illnesses result in death.
- Children commonly need medical care because of influenza, especially before they turn 5 years old.
- Severe influenza complications are most common in children younger than 2 years old.
- Children with chronic health problems like asthma, diabetes and disorders of the brain or nervous system are at especially high risk of developing serious flu complications.
- Each year an average of 20,000 children under the age of 5 are hospitalized because of influenza complications.
- Flu seasons vary in severity, however some children die from flu each year. Since 2004, pediatric deaths reported to CDC during regular flu seasons ranged from 34 deaths (during 2011-2012) to 122 deaths (during 2010-2011). (During the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, which lasted from April 15, 2009 to October 2, 2010, 348 pediatric deaths were reported to CDC.) More information about pediatric deaths since the 2004-2005 season is available at the interactive pediatric death web application.
The single best way to protect your children from the flu is to get them vaccinated each year.
The seasonal flu vaccine protects against three influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the season: an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus and an influenza B virus. For more information about this season’s vaccine selection, visit Vaccine Virus Selection for the 2012-2013 Influenza Season.
CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older get a seasonal flu vaccine. Keep in mind that vaccination is especially important for certain people who are high risk or who are in close contact with high risk persons, including the following groups:
- Children younger than 5 years of age, and children of any age with a long-term health condition like asthma, diabetes or disorders of the brain or nervous system. These children are at higher risk of serious flu complications (like pneumonia) if they get the flu. For the complete list of those at high risk, visit People at High Risk of Developing Flu–Related Complications.
- Adults who meet any of the following criteria:
- Are close contacts of children younger than 5 years old (people who live with them).
- Are out-of-home caregivers (nannies, daycare providers, etc.) of children younger than 5 years old.
- Live with or have other close contact with a child or children of any age with a chronic health problem (asthma, diabetes, etc.).
- Are health care workers
There are special vaccination instructions for children aged 6 months through 8 years of age
Some children 6 months through 8 years of age require 2 doses of influenza vaccine. Children in this age group who are getting vaccinated for the first time will need two doses. Some children who have received influenza vaccine previously will also need two doses. Your child’s health care provider can tell you whether two doses are recommended for your child.
The 2009 H1N1 virus continues to circulate. It wasn’t added to the seasonal vaccine until the 2010-2011 flu season. This means that children who did not get the 2009 H1N1 vaccine in 2009-2010, or a seasonal flu vaccine in 2010-2011 or later, will not be fully protected from the 2009 H1N1 virus until they receive 2 doses of the 2012-2013 flu vaccine.
The first dose should be given as soon as vaccine becomes available.
The second dose should be given at least 28 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. This will ensure that your child is protected before influenza starts circulating in your community.
Be sure to get your child a second dose if he or she needs one. It usually takes about two weeks after the second dose for protection to begin.
Some children are at especially high risk
Children at greatest risk of serious flu-related complications include the following:
- Children younger than 6 months old
These children are too young to be vaccinated. The best way to protect them is to make sure people around them are vaccinated.
- Children aged 6 months up to their 5th birthday
It is estimated that each year in the United States, there are more than 20,000 children* younger than 5 years old who are hospitalized due to flu. Even children in this age group who are otherwise healthy are at risk simply because of their age. In addition, children 2 years of age up to their 5th birthday are more likely than healthy older children to be taken to a doctor, an urgent care center, or the emergency room because of flu. To protect their health, all children 6 months and older should be vaccinated against the flu each year. Vaccinating young children, their families, and other caregivers can also help protect them from getting sick.
* Thompson W, Shay D, J, Weintraub E, et al. Influenza-Associated Hospitalization in the United States. JAMA 2004; 292 (11):1333-1340.
- Children aged 6 months through 18 years with chronic health problems, including:
- Neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions [including disorders of the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerve, and muscle such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy (seizure disorders), stroke, intellectual disability (mental retardation), moderate to severe developmental delay, muscular dystrophy, or spinal cord injury].
- Chronic lung disease (such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD] and cystic fibrosis)
- Heart disease (such as congenital heart disease, congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease)
- Blood disorders (such as sickle cell disease)
- Endocrine disorders (such as diabetes mellitus)
- Kidney disorders
- Liver disorders
- Metabolic disorders (such as inherited metabolic disorders and mitochondrial disorders)
- Weakened immune system due to disease or medication (such as people with HIV or AIDS, or cancer, or those on chronic steroids), and
- Children who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy
Children should be vaccinated as soon as flu vaccine becomes available
Its good practice to get your child vaccinated as soon as flu vaccine becomes available in your community so that your child will be protected by the time flu season starts. However, even getting your child vaccinated in December or later can be protective because the influenza season can last as late as May. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and for protection to develop against influenza virus infection.