Influenza vaccine is the most effective way to protect your child from becoming sick with influenza, commonly known as ‘the flu’. The flu vaccine is recommended for everyone over six months of age.
Children are more likely than adults to get severe complications of flu.
Children who are sick with flu miss days in crèche, childcare and school. They also miss out on their usual activities such as hobbies and sports.
What is the flu?
Influenza, commonly called the flu, is an infection caused by a strain (version) of the influenza virus. It mainly affects the nose, throat and lungs, although it can involve other parts of the body. In healthy children it is much like a bad cold; however, influenza can cause more serious illness, especially in very young children and those with chronic medical conditions.
Influenza occurs mainly during the winter months. Each year infections are caused by slightly different strains of the virus.
What are the signs and symptoms of flu?
Influenza usually begins with a sudden fever and at least two of the following symptoms:
> aches and pains
>cough or noisy breathing
>sore throat and runny nose
>nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhoea1.
What are the complications of flu?
Most children who get the flu have mild symptoms. But every winter some children can get complications of flu.
Complications of flu include: Pneumonia, Bronchitis, encephalitis (inflmmation of brain)
Children with these complications may need hospital treatment. Some may need intensive care.
Children with chronic health conditions are at risk of serious complications from flu.
In the last 10 years, almost 5000 children were admitted to hospital with complications of flu. Almost 200 children had to have treatment in intensive care and 40 children died.
How is the flu spread?
Influenza is very infectious. It can spread through the air by coughing and sneezing, and by touching objects that have been in contact with saliva or mucus from an infected person. A person with influenza is contagious from the day before symptoms begin until a few days after.
Good hygiene reduces the chance of getting influenza or passing it to others. Good hygiene includes:
>regularly washing hands thoroughly
>not sharing cups or cutlery
>encouraging children to cough or sneeze into their elbow
>using tissues instead of hankies – teach your child to throw tissues into the bin as soon as they have used them and to wash their hands afterwards.
If your child has influenza, keep them home from crèche, childcare or school until they are well again.
When should I give the influenza vaccine?
Influenza viruses change every year, so a new flu vaccine is developed annually to protect against the most common strains expected to be seen that year. The flu vaccine is recommended to be given every year, before the start of winter. The nasal flu vaccine will be available in October 2020.
Who should get the vaccine?
Children aged 2 to 12 can now get the nasal flu vaccine for free. Children aged from six months to two years from the high-risk group for flu, will be offered a flu vaccine injection instead. This is because the nasal spray is not licensed for children under the age of 2. Children older than 12 years in the high-risk groups will also get the flu vaccine injection.
How is the vaccine given?
The vaccine is given as a single spray in each nostril of your child’s nose.
Your child can breathe normally while getting the vaccine. There is no need to take a deep breath or sniff.
The vaccine is not painful and is absorbed quickly. It will work even if your child has a runny nose, sneezes or blows their nose after the vaccination.
Most children need only 1 dose of the vaccine each year. Some children with chronic health conditions like chronic heart or lung conditions may need 2 doses. The doses are given 4 weeks apart if they have never had a flu vaccine2.
Who should not get the nasal flu vaccine?
Your child should not get the vaccine if they:
>have had a severe allergic reaction to a previous dose of the flu vaccine or any of its ingredients
>have severe asthma or if they have been wheezy or needed their inhaler more than usual in the 3 days before the vaccination
>are taking medicines called salicylates, which include aspirin
>have a severely weakened immune system because of certain medical conditions or treatments
>are living with someone who has a severely weakened immune system – for example, a person who recently had a bone marrow transplant
What are the side effects of the nasal flu vaccine?
The most common side effects are mild and include:
>a runny or blocked nose
Some children get a fever (temperature) after the vaccine. It is usually mild and goes away on its own.
If your child has a fever or a headache, you can give them paracetamol or ibuprofen. DO NOT give aspirin and medicines called salicylates to children unless they have been prescribed by a doctor. This is especially important in the 4 weeks after getting the vaccine.
Serious side effects such as a severe allergic reaction are rare.
There is no evidence that you can catch flu from the nasal flu spray.
COMMON QUESTIONS OUR DOCTORS ARE ASKED
Should I give my child the flu vaccine?
The flu vaccine is recommended for everyone. Children can receive the vaccine from six months of age.
It is highly recommended and free for children between 2 and 12 years of age, people with chronic medical conditions, pregnant woman and the elderly.
Is the flu vaccine safe?
All vaccines are thoroughly tested to make sure they will not harm you or your child.
The flu vaccine for children has a good safety record. Millions of children in the US and the UK have been vaccinated safely and successfully.
There is a very small amount of Gelatin in the nasal flu vaccine. Gelatin is used as a preservative in the vaccine.
When is the right time to give the flu vaccine?
Usually, it is best to give the flu vaccine in October/November to ensure best protection during the peak flu season. However sometimes ‘out of season’ cases of flu can occur, so it is never too late to vaccinate.
My child has an allergy to egg, can they still receive the flu vaccine?
YES! The nasal spray flu vaccine is manufactured using egg-based technology. Because of this, it contains a small amount of egg proteins, such as ovalbumin. However, studies that have examined the use of both the nasal spray vaccine and flu shots in egg-allergic and non-egg-allergic patients indicate that severe allergic reactions in people with egg allergies are unlikely.
Those who have a history of severe allergic reaction to egg (i.e., any symptom other than hives) should be vaccinated in an inpatient or outpatient medical setting under the supervision of a health care provider who is able to recognize and manage severe allergic conditions3.
1. Melbourne, T.R.C.s.H. Kids Health Information – Influenza (flu) vaccine. 2020 [cited 2020 06/09/2020]; Available from: https://www.hse.ie/eng/health/immunisation/pubinfo/flu-vaccination/flu-vaccine-for-children/.
2. HSE. Flu Vaccinations for Children. 2020 [cited 2020 06/09/2020]; Available from: https://www.hse.ie/eng/health/immunisation/pubinfo/flu-vaccination/flu-vaccine-for-children/.
3. Prevention, C.f.D.C.a. Flu Vaccine and People with Egg Allergies. 2020 [cited 2020 06/09/2020]; Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/egg-allergies.htm.