Children and young people aged between 2 and 17 years can get the nasal flu vaccine for free.
Your child can get the vaccine at your GP or pharmacy from October 2021 until the start of February 2022.
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 chronic health conditions are at risk of serious complications from flu.
In some children, flu can lead to serious problems such as:
- inflammation of the brain (encephalitis)
Children with these complications may need hospital treatment. Some may need intensive care.
In the last 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.
Children can catch and spread flu easily. The children's flu vaccine can help to prevent the spread of flu in schools and at home. This keeps everyone safe.
Type of vaccine for children
Children will get a nasal spray vaccine. It's called the Live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine (LAIV) nasal spray vaccine. It's known by the brand name Fluenz Tetra and manufactured by AstraZeneca AB.
This flu vaccine is approved for children aged 2 to 17 years.
If your child has been told they cannot have the nasal flu vaccine, talk to your GP or pharmacist about them getting the vaccine as an injection.
If your child is under 2 years and at risk of complications from flu, they can get a different type of flu vaccine by injection instead of the nasal spray.
Most children only need 1 dose of the vaccine each season. Some children aged 2 to 8 years with chronic health conditions may need 2 doses if they have never had the flu vaccine before. Your GP or pharmacist will know if they need 2 doses. The doses are given 4 weeks apart.
How the nasal flu vaccine is given
The vaccine is given as a spray in each nostril. It is not painful and is absorbed quickly.
If your child sneezes or blows their nose after vaccination, the vaccine dose does not need to be repeated.
It takes 2 weeks for the vaccine to work.
Who should not get the nasal flu vaccine
Your child should not get the vaccine if they:
- have 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 vaccination
- are taking medicines called salicylates, which include aspirin
- have taken influenza antiviral medication within the previous 48 hours
- 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 has to live in insolation in the months following a bone marrow transplant
- have a condition which means they have a leak of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) - the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord
- have severe neutropoenia (low levels of a type of white blood cell), except for those with primary autoimmune neutropenia
- are on combination checkpoint inhibitors, for example ipilumumab plus nivolumab, which are used to treat cancer
- are pregnant
- have a cranial cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leak
Your child may not be able to have the nasal flu vaccine if they have had a cochlear implant. Ask your child's hearing specialist if your child can have the nasal flu vaccine.
Get specialist advice if your child needs regular oral steroids or they have previously needed ICU care for asthma.
All vaccines are tested to make sure they will not harm you or your child.
The nasal flu vaccine is very safe and has been given to millions of children around the world.
It has been given to children in:
- the US since 2003
- the UK since 2013
- Ireland since 2020
It's safe for children to get the nasal flu vaccine at the same time, before, or after any of the vaccines that may be offered to them. This includes their school vaccines or their COVID-19 vaccine.
When to delay flu vaccine
Delay your child's flu vaccine if they:
- are unwell and have a high temperature - wait until they feel better
- have a very blocked or runny nose - wait until their nose is clear
Ingredients in nasal flu vaccine
There is a very small amount of gelatin in the nasal flu vaccine. Gelatin is used as a preservative in the vaccine.
The Irish Council of Imams have said that it is OK for Muslims to have vaccines containing gelatin.
There is no thiomersal, aluminium or mercury in the flu vaccines we use.
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 nasal flu vaccine.
Serious side effects such as a severe allergic reaction are rare.
The most common side effects are mild and include:
- runny or blocked nose
- muscle aches
- loss of appetite
Some children get a fever (high temperature) after the vaccine. It is usually mild and goes away on its own.
If your child has a headache, you can give them paracetamol or ibuprofen. These side effects should go away in a day or 2.
Aspirin, or any medicines that contain aspirin, should never be given to children unless prescribed by a doctor. This is especially important in the 4 weeks after getting the flu vaccine
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. The risk of GBS after having the flu is greater than after getting 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 100% of 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
- cover coughs or sneezes with a tissue or their sleeve
- put used tissues into a bin
Flu vaccine and COVID-19
The nasal spray flu vaccine does not protect your child from COVID-19.
Children aged 12 years and older can get the COVID-19 vaccine at the same time as the flu vaccine.
As a precaution, children aged 5 to 11 years should wait at least 2 weeks between getting their COVID-19 vaccine and the flu vaccine.