How effective is the flu vaccine?

It has become a truism of public health: Another year, another flu vaccination. Since 2010, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended that every person 6 months of age or older receive the flu vaccine. 

The flu vaccination is typically available in both injectable and nasal spray forms. In the past, the CDC has encouraged parents to opt for the flu shot whenever possible due to concerns about the nasal spray form in some recent seasons. While there is no preference in this year's recommendationsthe nasal spray is not recommended for some groups– pregnant women, children younger than age 2, children ages 2-4 years with asthma or a history of wheezing within 12 months, those with cochlear implants, or those who have certain other medical conditions.

Flu vaccines are designed to protect against the strains of flu vaccine that researchers expect to be most prevalent during the upcoming season. Flu vaccines are either trivalent or quadrivalent, meaning they are formulated to contain vaccines for three or four flu strains, depending on what strains are forecast to be most active in the upcoming season.

Early prevention remains key for full protection from the flu. To ensure that your child’s vaccination is given before the onset of flu season, physicians encourage people to accept the available vaccine and not waste time seeking a particular formulation. 

Flu vaccine recommendations

Vaccination is the best way to reduce the risk of contracting the flu:

  • For everyone 6 months and older: Get vaccinated for the flu every year. (Read this to learn more about protecting newborns who are not yet vaccinated.)
  • For children ages 6 months to 8 years old with fewer than 2 doses of flu vaccination, 2 doses of vaccination should be given. For best protection from the flu, the first dose should be given as soon as the vaccine becomes available.
  • For children with a history of egg allergy, flu vaccination is okay. There is no need for medical observation during the 30 minutes post-vaccine. People with severe egg allergy should have their vaccine given by a health care provider knowledgeable in allergic response.

While vaccination helps to significantly reduce your child’s risk of contracting the flu, it does not eliminate that risk. Parents should be aware that children younger than 2 years of age are considered at high risk for serious complications if they get the flu. Therefore, the CDC recommends that antiviral drugs (such as Tamiflu) be given to young, sick children with the flu.

Last updated October 7, 2022

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