A baby being given a flu shot.
Flu shots help protect babies from illnesses.

Understanding Flu Shots for Babies

If you are the parent of a baby or infant, you may be wondering whether or not to give them a flu shot.

While it is only natural to have some concerns about subjecting your baby to another injection, a flu shot is one of the best ways to protect your child and reduce the risk of them becoming ill.

In this article, we explain all you need to know about flu shots for babies and why it is important to get one.

What is a Flu Shot?

A flu shot is a type of vaccination. It contains a weakened form of the flu virus, which helps the immune system develop resistance to the real thing.

When a mild form of the virus enters the body in the form of a flu shot, the immune system creates special proteins called antibodies. These antibodies help the immune system recognize the flu virus and destroy it more effectively if it encounters it for real.

However, because the flu virus changes every year, the flu shot also needs to change regularly to keep up. This is why flu shots only offer protection for one year and need to be given annually.

If a baby or child under the age of nine years is getting a flu shot for the first time, they will require two doses, given four weeks apart. For subsequent flu shots or children over the age of nine, a single dose is sufficient.

When to Get a Flu Shot

The flu shot has a good safety record and is suitable for babies and children aged six months and above.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all children over six months receive the flu shot every year. The best time to get a flu shot is September to October: the beginning of the flu season.

Although all babies and children should be vaccinated against flu, it is especially important to do so if they have a chronic health condition. These include the following:

  • Diabetes.
  • Heart conditions.
  • Asthma or other respiratory disorders.
  • Neurological disorders.
  • Liver or kidney disease.
  • Anemia.
  • Obesity.

There are very few people who should not get a flu shot. However, you should talk to your physician if your baby has a weakened immune system or has ever suffered from Guillain Barré syndrome. Your doctor may also recommend postponing your baby’s flu shot if they are currently unwell.

In rare cases, the flu shot can cause a serious allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis. If your child has ever had an allergic reaction to a vaccine or has a severe egg allergy, consult your physician.

Pros and Cons of the Flu Shot for Babies

Flu is a common infection and can be very distressing for babies and children. It causes a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Blocked or runny nose.
  • Sore throat.
  • Cough.
  • Headache.
  • Muscular aches and pains.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • High fever.

A high fever above 103F to 105F is especially dangerous for babies and infants as it can lead to convulsions. Furthermore, the flu virus can cause complications such as bronchitis, sinusitis, pneumonia and ear infections. In rare cases, the flu virus can be fatal.

The main advantage of giving a baby a flu shot is that it reduces the risk of these potentially serious problems from occurring. It could save a lot of discomfort both for your baby, and for you. Flu shots for babies also reduce the risk of the virus being spread to other members of the family.

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However, there are also a few disadvantages to consider. Firstly, like any medicine, the flu shot can cause side effects. These include the following:

  • Soreness at the injection site.
  • Runny or blocked nose.
  • Headaches.
  • Low-grade fever.

Although these symptoms can be annoying, they are usually mild and temporary. They will likely be much easier to deal with that the flu virus itself. It is possible to relieve these side effects using over-the-counter remedies such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. However, you should wait until six hours after the vaccination otherwise they could reduce its effectiveness.

Another disadvantage of the flu shot is that it is not 100% effective. However, it is still the best way to protect your baby against flu.

Some parents are concerned about one of the preservatives in vaccines, thimerosal. In the past, some people linked this ingredient with developmental disorders such as autism. However, this theory has now been disproved and there is no scientific evidence that vaccines cause autism.

Protecting Your Baby Against the Flu

If your baby is under six months old, they are too young to get the flu shot. The flu shot is not thought to be harmful for this age group but it is ineffective as young infants’ immune systems are still developing.

Fortunately, there are ways to protect your baby even if they are too young to get the flu shot. Doctors recommend that pregnant women whose babies will be born during flu season get the flu shot themselves. They will pass their immunity on to their unborn child.

Breastfeeding women should also get the flu shot so that their antibodies transfer to their baby through their milk.

Finally, it is essential to take precautions against the flu virus, even if your baby has had the flu shot. Avoid them coming into contact with other people who have the virus. If another family member gets the flu, ensure that they cover their mouth when coughing or sneezing, and wash their hands regularly. You should also keep surfaces clean to prevent the spread of the virus.