Flu vaccine for children

The annual flu vaccination programme includes pre-school children aged two or older and children at primary school. Vaccinating your child helps protect them against flu infection. Children should get the flu vaccine during autumn, before the height of the flu season.

How the flu vaccine can protect your child

Vaccinating your child:

  • helps protect them against infection with the flu virus
  • reduces the spread of infection to other children and adults

Children who are eligible for the vaccine

From October 2017 your child will be offered the flu vaccine if:

  • they were born between 2 July 2013 and 1 September 2015
  • they attend primary school and were born between  2 July 2006 and 1 July 2013

Where your child gets the vaccine

GPs will offer the vaccine to pre-school children. Ask the doctor's surgery about vaccination for your child.

Primary school children will be offered the vaccine in school.  To allow your child to be vaccinated, you need to sign and return a consent form to the school. If your child is absent or they need a second dose of the vaccine, the school will ask you to contact your child's GP.

Flu symptoms in children

Children get the same flu symptoms as adults:

  • fever
  • chills
  • runny nose
  • aching muscles, limbs and joints
  • headache
  • extreme tiredness

They can also have a stuffy nose, dry cough and sore throat. Symptoms can last between two and seven days. Some children have a very high fever, without typical symptoms, and need to go to hospital for treatment.

Flu complications can include:

  • bronchitis
  • pneumonia
  • middle ear infection

Rare complications from flu

Severe flu cases are very rare but can lead to disability and even death. Young children are more at risk and more likely to need hospital treatment.

For children with some pre-existing medical conditions, flu can be very serious because it  can make their condition worse.

How the vaccine is given

The vaccine is given as a spray in both nostrils. Your child can breathe normally while the vaccine is given. They don't need to actively inhale or sniff.

For medical reasons, some children will not be able to take a nasal spray. They'll receive the flu vaccine by injection.

How the vaccine can prevent flu

The vaccine doesn't cause flu. The nasal spray vaccine contains weakened live viruses that help your child build up immunity to the flu. 

If your child has a weakened immune system, they may not be able to handle the weakened viruses in the vaccine. You should tell this to the person giving the vaccine to your child.

A child with a weakened immune system will need the flu vaccine by injection.

Side effects of the vaccine

Following the nasal spray vaccine, your child might have a runny or stuffed nose.

Children who shouldn’t get the nasal spray vaccine

Your child shouldn't get the vaccine as a nasal spray if they:

  • have a severely weakened immune system due to certain conditions or medical treatments, ask your GP for advice
  • had a severe reaction to a previous dose of the vaccine, or any of the substances included in it, tell the person giving the vaccine about any allergies
  • take salicylates including acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin)
  • have a history of active wheezing at the time of vaccination (within the last seven days)
  • have severe asthma

If you have a severely weakened immune system and need treatment in an isolation unit, you should avoid close contact with vaccinated children for two weeks. There is a low risk that a child could pass the vaccine virus to you. 

How long your child is protected from flu

Flu viruses can change every year, so a new vaccine is needed to match them. Flu vaccine is offered every autumn to all pre-school children aged two years or more and all primary school children.

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