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Children’s flu vaccines

The children’s flu vaccine is offered as a yearly nasal spray to young children to help protect them against flu.

Flu is a very common infection in babies and children. It can be very unpleasant for them and have potentially serious complications, including bronchitis and pneumonia.

Vaccinating children protects them and others that are vulnerable to flu, such as babies, older people, pregnant women and people with serious long-term illnesses.

At what age should children have the nasal spray flu vaccine?

The flu vaccine will be offered to all eligible children, including:

  • All school children aged 2 – 18 years

[Children aged 2 to 18 with long-term health conditions (identified as high risk) are routinely invited to get their flu vaccination; the injected form is recommended in some cases.]

How does the children’s flu vaccine work?

The vaccine contains live but weakened flu viruses that do not cause flu in children. It will help your child build up immunity to flu in a similar way as natural infection, but without the symptoms. As the main flu viruses change each year, a new nasal spray vaccine has to be given each year, in the same way as the injectable flu vaccine.

How is the nasal spray flu vaccine given?

The vaccine is given as a single spray squirted up each nostril. It is quick, painless and is absorbed very quickly.

Who will give the children’s flu vaccination?

Children will be given the vaccination by the child health and public health nurses in schools or by appointment to the child health centre in specific circumstances.

Which children are at higher risk from flu?

Children with long-term health conditions, such as diabetes, serious heart conditions, underlying neurological problems and kidney or liver disease, are at higher risk from flu.

If your child is aged between 6 months and 2 years old and is in a high-risk group for flu, they will be offered an injected flu vaccine. This is because the nasal spray is not licensed for children under the age of 2. Some children over the age of 2 who are in a high-risk group will also need to have an injected vaccine if the nasal spray vaccine is not suitable for them.

Is the flu vaccine safe?

Yes. The flu vaccine for children has a good safety record. However, like all vaccines, some children may experience some side effects, most of which are mild and short-lived.

Common side effects include:
  • Runny or blocked nose
  • Headache
  • General tiredness
  • Loss of appetite
Rare side effects include:

As with all vaccines, there is a very small chance of a severe allergic reaction. Anaphylaxis is very serious and when it happens, it does so within a few minutes of the vaccination. The person who vaccinates you or your child will be trained to deal with allergic reactions and will treat them immediately.

Is there any reason to delay giving the vaccine to a child?

Children should have their nasal spray flu vaccination delayed if they are unwell with a high temperature.

Also, if a child has a heavily blocked or runny nose, it might stop the vaccine getting into their system, so it is best to postpone the vaccination until their nasal symptoms have cleared up.

Are there any children who should not have the nasal spray flu vaccine?

Children may not be able to have the nasal spray flu vaccine if they have:

  • A severely weakened immune system
  • A severe egg allergy with anaphylaxis that has resulted in intensive care hospital admission
  • Severe asthma that is, those being treated with steroid tablets or who have needed intensive care because of their asthma
  • Are currently wheezy or have been wheezy in the past 72 hours
  • An allergy to any of the vaccine ingredients, such as neomycin
  • A condition that requires salicylate treatment

The nasal spray vaccine is also not suitable for children under the age of two years, or those in clinical risk groups who have never received the seasonal flu vaccine before.

If your child is at high risk of flu as a result of 1 or more medical conditions/ treatments and cannot have the nasal flu vaccine, they should have the injected flu vaccine. If you are not sure, check with your  child health nurse or GP.

How many doses of the flu vaccine do children need?

Most children only need a single dose of the nasal spray. Children aged 2 to 9 years at risk of flu because of an underlying medical condition, who have not received flu vaccine before, are given 2 doses of the nasal spray at least 4 weeks apart.

Does the nasal vaccine contain pork?

Yes, the nasal spray contains a highly processed form of gelatine (porcine gelatine), which is used in a range of essential medicines. The gelatine helps to keep the vaccine viruses stable so the vaccine provides the best protection against flu.

Can I opt for my child to have the injected vaccine that does not contain gelatine instead?

The nasal vaccine provides good protection against flu, particularly in young children. It also reduces the risk to siblings who are too young to be vaccinated, as well as other family members (e.g. grandparents) who may be more vulnerable to the complications of flu.

The injected vaccine is not offered to healthy children as part of the children’s flu vaccination programme. But if your child is at high risk from flu because of 1 or more medical conditions or treatments and cannot have the nasal flu vaccine, they should have the flu vaccine by injection.

Some faith groups accept the use of porcine gelatine in medical products.

Click here to view leaflet on the Children’s flu vaccine

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