Each year, millions of children get sick with the flu and thousands are hospitalized because of severe complications caused by the flu. Influenza, or flu, is a serious respiratory illness that can easily spread when someone infected coughs or sneezes. It can affect anyone, though children younger than 5 and children with asthma or certain chronic health conditions may be at higher risk of developing serious complications. Among flu-related pediatric deaths, around 80% were in children not fully vaccinated against flu. This is why it is so important for children 6 months and older to get vaccinated each year.

“As we bring down protections that were in place during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as masking and social distancing, and we head into winter, it is imperative that every child gets a flu shot,” said American Lung Association National Volunteer Spokesperson Dr. Juanita Mora. “We have to remember that flu infects millions and kills 35,000-45,000 people each year. It is projected that we will have one of the worst flu seasons in the last 3 years. I highly encourage parents to prioritize having their healthcare provider give their children the flu vaccination this, and every year.”

As cold and flu season is upon us, community spread of infectious respiratory diseases continue to increase. We’ve already begun to see influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases on the rise. The single most effective thing you can do for your child to help them avoid the flu is to have them vaccinated every year. While it doesn’t guarantee your child won’t get the flu, vaccination also helps reduce how sick your child feels and how long they remain ill.

Does my child need a flu shot every year?

Yes. The past two flu seasons we’ve seen historically low rates of flu circulating in the United States. This likely has led to low population immunity and some of the youngest children will likely be exposed to influenza viruses for the first time. Influenza viruses are constantly changing, so flu vaccines may be updated every year to match the most common Influenza A and Influenza B strains. In addition, vaccination protection from your flu shot declines over time. A yearly flu shot is needed for the best available protection. “A 2022 study showed the flu shot reduced children’s risk of life-threatening influenza by 75%. All the more reason to get your children protected,” Dr. Mora said.

When should my child get the flu shot?

“The best time to get the flu shot is now!” Most doctors agree that the earlier in the season, the more likely you are to have complete protection before the winter comes and community spread becomes more prevalent.

Some children 6 months through 8 years old will need two doses of flu vaccine. This applies to:

  • Children in this age group who are getting vaccinated against flu for the first time
  • Children in this age group who have previously only received one dose of flu vaccine

The two-dose series should be given 4 weeks apart. Talk to your child’s healthcare provider to determine if your child needs two doses.

What are the side effects?

The most common side effects from the flu shot are muscle pain or soreness, soreness at the injection site, or fever. However, all these symptoms usually resolve within 24 hours. If you have any concerns, talk to your healthcare provider.

Do we need both the COVID-19 and flu shot?

Yes. The flu and COVID-19 are different diseases, so you need both vaccines to be protected from each one. Both children and adults can safely get the COVID-19 vaccine and the flu shot at the same time, and they should. Getting the flu shot will not counteract the effects of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Talk to your healthcare provider about keeping or bringing your children up to date with their vaccinations. Find out more about preventing the flu at Lung.org/prevent-flu.

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