This flu season, all children age 2 to 12 will be offered the nasal flu vaccine for free.
Young people age 13 to 17 can also get the free nasal flu vaccine if they have:
- a long-term medical conditions such as diabetes, chronic conditions of the heart, liver or kidney, and chronic lung disease including COPD, or neurological diseases
- an impaired immune system due to disease or treatment
- a body mass index (BMI) of over 40
- Down syndrome
- regular contact with poultry, water fowl or pigs
They can also get the free nasal flu vaccine if they:
- are carers
- live in the same house as someone who is at risk of flu because of a medical condition
- live in a long-term residential care facility
Speak to your GP or pharmacist about whether your child age 13 to 17 should get the flu vaccine.
Why children should get the flu vaccine
The flu vaccine helps to protect children against flu.
Most children who get the flu have mild symptoms. But children and young people with long-term health conditions are at risk of serious complications from flu.
In some children, flu can lead to problems such as:
- inflammation of the brain (encephalitis)
Children with these complications may need hospital treatment. Some may need intensive care.
In the past 10 years in Ireland, almost 5,000 children were admitted to hospital with complications of flu. Almost 200 children had treatment in intensive care and 40 children died.
Who should not get the nasal flu vaccine
A very small number of children will not be able to get the nasal flu vaccine because of medical reasons.
Children and young people should not get the nasal vaccine if they:
- had a severe allergic reaction to a previous dose of the flu vaccine or any of its ingredients
- have severe asthma or if they have been wheezy or needed their inhaler more than usual in the 3 days before the vaccine
- are taking medicines called salicylates, which include aspirin
- have a severely weakened immune system because of certain medical conditions or treatments
- are living with someone who has a severely weakened immune system (for example, a person who recently had a bone marrow transplant)
- are taking 2 medicines called combination checkpoint inhibitors (for example, ipilimumab and nivolumab) which are used to treat cancer
- have severe neutropenia (low levels of a type of white blood cell) except for those with primary autoimmune neutropenia
- have taken antiviral medication for flu within the previous 48 hours
- have a condition which means they have a leak of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) - the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord
- are pregnant
Talk to your GP before getting the nasal flu vaccine for your child if they have had a cochlear implant.
If your child cannot get the nasal vaccine, your GP or pharmacist will talk to you about giving your child a vaccine by injection.
Where children can get the flu vaccine
Your child can get the flu vaccine at your GP surgery or pharmacist.
The vaccine and the consultation with your GP or pharmacist is free if your child is age:
- 2 to 12
- 13 to 17 and is at risk from flu
Some primary school children will be offered the free nasal flu vaccine in school by HSE vaccination teams. You will be contacted about this by your local team.
How the nasal flu vaccine is given
Your child will get the vaccine as a spray up their nose.
The vaccinator will spray once into each nostril. It does not hurt.
Your child can breathe normally while getting the vaccine. There is no need to take a deep breath or sniff.
Some children who have chronic health conditions (such as chronic heart or lung conditions) may need 2 doses, given 4 weeks apart.
All vaccines are tested to make sure they will not harm your child.
The flu vaccine for children has been given to children in the US since 2003 and in the UK and Ireland since 2013.
Your child might have some mild side effects after their vaccine. Some of the side effects can be similar to flu. But they will not get the flu from the flu vaccine.
Serious side effects such as a severe allergic reaction are rare.
The most common side effects are mild and include:
- muscle aches
- pain and swelling where the injection was given
Some children get a fever (high temperature) after the vaccine. It is usually mild and goes away on its own.
These side effects should go away in 1 to 2 days.
In very rare cases, Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) has been reported. GBS is a condition that affects the nerves in the body. It causes nerve inflammation and can cause pain, numbness, muscle weakness and difficulty walking. You are far more likely to get GBS from having the flu, than from the flu vaccine.
Generally, flu vaccines reduce the risk of infection by 40% to 60%.
But even if your child gets the vaccine, they could still get the flu. This is because the vaccine does not protect against all infections.
If your child does not get the flu vaccine, they should take extra care to protect themselves from flu.
Protect your child from flu
As well as getting the vaccine, protect your child from flu by making sure they:
- wash their hands properly and often with soap and water or alcohol hand sanitiser
- cough or sneeze into a tissue or their sleeve
- put used tissues into a bin