Children, the Flu, and the Flu Vaccine
Note: The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) 2015-16 Recommendations for prevention and control of seasonal influenza were published in complete form in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report on August 6, 2015. The report is available at MMWR.
Visit What You Should Know for the 2016-2017 Influenza Season for flu and flu vaccine information specific to the current flu season.
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 2004-2005, flu-related deaths in children reported to CDC during regular flu seasons have ranged from 37 deaths to 171 deaths. Information about pediatric deaths since the 2004-2005 flu season is available in the interactive pediatric death web application.
The seasonal flu vaccine protects against the influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season. Traditional flu vaccines (called “trivalent” vaccines) are made to protect against three flu viruses; an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus, and an influenza B virus. In addition, there are flu vaccines made to protect against four flu viruses (called “quadrivalent” vaccines). These vaccines protect against the same three viruses as the trivalent vaccine and an additional B virus.
Influenza vaccine options for the 2016-2017 season are listed in “TABLE. Influenza vaccines — United States, 2016–17 influenza season. Different products are approved for different age groups, including children as young as 6 months of age.
Note that while there is a quadrivalent nasal spray vaccine that is FDA approved for the U.S. market, ACIP and CDC recommend that nasal spray vaccine not be used during the 2016-2017 season because of concerns about how well it works.
Your child’s health care provider will know which vaccines are right for your child.
- 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. This includes children at high risk for developing complications from influenza illness, and adults who are close contacts of those children.
For the complete list of those at high risk, visit People at High Risk of Developing Flu–Related Complications.
Some children 6 months through 8 years of age require two doses of influenza vaccine. Children 6 months through 8 years getting vaccinated for the first time, and those who have only previously gotten one dose of vaccine, should get two doses of vaccine this season. 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.
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.
Recommendations on the control and prevention of influenza are published annually, in late summer or early fall. Existing recommendations are available at Seasonal Influenza Vaccination Resources for Health Professionals.
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 children1 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.
American Indian and Alaskan Native children
These children are more likely to have severe flu illness that results in hospitalization or death.2,3
2CDC. Deaths Related to 2009 Pandemic Influenza A (H1N1) Among American Indian/Alaskan Natives --- 12 States, 2009. MMWR. 2009;58(48);1341-1344.
3CDC. Prevention and Control of Influenza with Vaccines: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), 2010. MMWR. 2010; 59(No.RR-8).
- 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 every flu season for the best protection against flu. For children who will need two doses of flu vaccine, the first dose should be given as early in the season as possible. For other children, it is good practice to get them vaccinated by the end of October, if possible. However, getting vaccinated later can still be protective, as long as flu viruses are circulating. While seasonal influenza outbreaks can happen as early as October, most of the time influenza activity peaks between December and March. Since it takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body that protect against influenza virus infection, it is best that people get vaccinated so they are protected before influenza begins spreading in their community.
*"Healthy" indicates persons who do not have an underlying medical condition that predisposes them to influenza complications.
- Page last reviewed: August 5, 2016
- Page last updated: August 5, 2016
- Content source:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD)
- Page maintained by: Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs