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When Should My Child Get Their First Flu Shot?

05 December 2022

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By the time your infant celebrates their first birthday, they will have had the opportunity to receive 10 vaccinations to prevent them from various diseases and illnesses. For specific shots, such as the flu, it can be difficult to remember when your baby should become vaccinated. This blog will explain the best time for your baby to receive the flu vaccine.

Flu shot for babies

For more than a half-century, millions of people have received the flu vaccine. This includes young children who, along with older adults, are most at risk of developing severe complications from the influenza virus. 

Infants have an underdeveloped immune system and small lungs, making it harder to defend against the flu in the event they become infected. Infants, more so than older children, are more at risk for flu-related complications such as pneumonia or dehydration. From 2010 to 2020, there were as many as 27,000 flu-related hospitalizations each year in children under the age of 5, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates.

The flu vaccine, unlike other lifetime shots, are administered each year because there are many variants of the influenza virus. Many parents don’t end up vaccinating their children from the flu because it is recommended to be administered more frequently. During the 2022 flu season, only 55 percent of children were vaccinated.

At what age should babies get vaccinated?

The CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend flu shots for children 6 months or older.

Any child under the age of 9 who hasn’t previously received the flu vaccine should get the shot in two doses spread apart by four weeks. For example, if you decide to give your child the flu vaccine at their 9 month checkup, they will receive one dose then and a follow up dose a month later.

The first dose creates an initial immune system response, and the second dose strengthens this response so your child has better immunity.

Typically, flu season begins in the fall around October and can linger into the spring around May. In an ideal world, your baby should receive the vaccine in October to protect them for the entire season. However, this isn’t possible if they were born in the summer or fall. For example, if your child was born in October or November, they wouldn’t turn 6 months old until the end of flu season (April or May). Even if they’re first eligible for the vaccine at the end of the season, the idea of “it’s better late than never” applies. Most flu vaccines have an expiration date of June 30. 

Although infants younger than 6 months old can’t receive the vaccine and therefore have no defense against the flu, pregnant women can do their part by being vaccinated. If you receive a flu vaccine in your third trimester, the antibodies created can pass through the placenta to the fetus to provide protection.

Can any baby receive a flu vaccine?

In most cases, yes, as long as your child is older than 6 months. Babies who have experienced a previous allergic reaction to the flu vaccine are not candidates. Children who have a history of Guillain-Barre Syndrome (a rare auto-immune disorder that attacks your nerves) may not be candidates, either. Consult with a pediatrician for more guidance.

What are the pros and cons of flu shots for babies?

In general, the flu vaccine can limit your child’s symptoms when exposed to a mild case of the virus. For more severe flu cases, the vaccine can limit the risk of being hospitalized. Parents can also benefit from the flu vaccine, as it can help limit your own exposure to the virus and help ease your burden if they get sick and have to stay home from daycare. 

If your child was born with heart problems or another chronic illness, you should prioritize the flu vaccine as it can cause a more severe illness compared to healthy babies.

As far as cons, there have been some concerns regarding the presence of thimerosal in flu vaccines. Thimerosal, a common mercury-based preservative, hasn’t been used in children’s vaccines since 2001, although there are still trace amounts in the flu vaccine. 

However, thimerosal hasn’t been linked to autism or any other social or behavioral issues. If you have any concerns regarding thimerosal, ask your pediatrician about receiving a thimerosal-free flu vaccine.

Why do babies get sick after the flu shot?

By definition, you’re unable to get “sick” from the flu vaccine because it contains killed (inactive) viruses. 

However, there may be side effects your baby experiences. Common symptoms include soreness or swelling where the vaccine was administered (usually in the arm or leg), low-grade fever, nausea or muscle aches. Side effects may last up to 24 to 36 hours.

Why does this happen? The purpose of a vaccine is to prepare your body to defend against a future infection. In the case of the flu vaccine, the deactivated version of the virus trains your immune system to recognize the proteins in the virus. As a result, your body creates antibodies to fight the flu.

Any type of reaction to the flu vaccine will be mild. In fact, your child is more likely to experience symptoms from the actual flu than they are a vaccine.

Preparing your child for the flu shot

Having your baby stuck with a needle for the first time can be an overwhelming experience for both parent and child.

Here are some tips to prepare for their first flu vaccine:

Plan ahead: Before you leave, be sure to bring your child’s favorite toy or blanket. This will give them a sense of comfort even in an uncomfortable setting such as the doctor’s office.

Hold your child: Place your child on your lap and hold them as the health care provider administers the shot. They can either face forward or toward you, whatever is most comfortable for you and your child.

Ask for something sweet: If you’re worried about pain, ask your pediatrician about Sweet-ease, an oral liquid made of sugar and water that helps decrease pain in infants. 

Try a cooling spray: Vapocoolant, a type of cooling spray, is another option to help reduce localized pain from the vaccine. Additionally, pain-relieving ointment can help minimize temporary pain associated with shots.

Distract them: Right before the shot is administered, try distracting your child by calling their name or singing them a song. 

Provide reassurance: If they begin to cry after the shot, console them with a huge and reassuring words so they know they’re in a safe place. Infants may not understand your words, but they can pick up on tone of voice and body language. It’s important to remain calm as their caregiver.


For more questions on your child’s vaccine schedule, contact your pediatrician. Don’t have a pediatrician yet? Find a provider near you to schedule a visit.

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