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Children and flu: everything you need to know

Little girl and a dog touching noses while lying on a bed
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The flu can affect everyone – but for some people, there’s a higher risk of serious illness and complications. Getting the flu vaccine for your child is a really good way to keep them protected, and to prevent the spread of the virus. Read on to find out more.

What are the symptoms of the flu in children?

The symptoms of the flu are largely the same for adults and children, and include:

  • High temperature
  • Aches and pains
  • Feeling very tired
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhoea
  • Nausea and vomiting

You might also notice that your child has pain in their ear, or is less active than usual.

What complications can the flu cause in children?

The groups most likely to get seriously ill from the flu are the elderly, pregnant women, people with underlying health conditions, and young children. However, of all these groups, young children are the most likely to be admitted to hospital with the flu.

For young children, serious complications of the flu include:

In rare cases, the flu can cause complications that are life-threatening for children.

Is there a flu jab for children?

There is a flu vaccine given as a nasal spray for children aged 2 -11 years and young adults aged 12-17 years with a long-term health condition. When receiving the vaccine, your child will have the spray squirted up each of their nostrils. This process is quick and painless and – unlike other vaccinations – doesn’t require any needles!

The nasal spray is only licensed for children older than two, and it may not be suitable for all children. If your child can’t have the nasal spray, they can get the flu vaccine as an injection instead.

What’s in the children’s flu vaccine?

The children’s flu vaccine contains a small amount of weakened flu virus, and – like the injected types – is changed each year to offer the best protection against strains of flu that are widespread that season.

The nasal spray also contains a small amount of pork gelatine, which means it may not be suitable for all children. For Muslim and Jewish parents, it’s worth noting that leading figures within these communities have approved the nasal spray vaccine for use.

Should my child get the flu vaccine?

It’s really important to get your child vaccinated, which is why the flu nasal spray is a routine vaccination for all British children aged 2 (on 31st August 2021) -11 years and young adults aged 12-17 years with a long-term health condition.

The two main reasons to get your child vaccinated are:

  1. Protection for your child – having the vaccine will help protect them from strains of the flu that are most widespread during the coming flu season. Their risk of getting infected will be lower, and if they do get sick, the illness should be shorter and less severe.
  2. Protection for other people – children are often called “super spreaders” because illness spreads easily between them. Children’s immune systems are less well established which means the flu virus tends to replicate for a longer time, causing them to “shed” more of the virus. This means they’re more likely to pass the virus on to other people, including those who are clinically vulnerable.

When should my child get the flu vaccine?

For the coming flu season (i.e. autumn and winter), the vaccine should be given to children who are:

  • Aged two or three on 31st August
  • In primary school (reception to year six)
  • In secondary school (year seven to year 11)
  • Aged two to 17 and living with a long-term health condition

If your child is of the appropriate age to receive the vaccine, your GP surgery or your child’s school should contact you to arrange your child’s flu vaccine.

Remember: a new flu vaccine is developed each year, which means your child will need to get the vaccine every year.

Is the children’s flu vaccine free?

Yes, the children’s flu vaccine is free on the NHS for all age groups listed above. It’s also free on the NHS for the following adult groups:

  • Over 50s living in England or Wales
  • Pregnant women
  • People with certain health conditions
  • People in long-stay residential care
  • Carers
  • Healthcare and social care workers

Is there a vaccine available if my child is over 11 years old but they don’t have a long-term health condition?

Yes, if your child is between 12-17 years old and they don’t have a long-term health condition, they would be able to have the flu vaccine as an injection, the same way adults do.

If you want to get the flu vaccine for your child, you can do so easily at your local LloydsPharmacy. If your child isn't eligible for a free vaccine, they can get their jab privately for just £12

Is the vaccine safe for children?

The vaccine is very safe, which is why it’s routinely given to all British children.

However, as with any vaccine or medication, there can be some minor side effects. In children, the nasal spray might cause mild symptoms like a runny or blocked nose, a headache, or loss of appetite – although these won’t last long.

If your child gets the jab, they might have a sore arm where they received the injection, a slightly raised temperature, and some aches and pains.

Book your flu jab at LloydsPharmacy

Where can I get the flu vaccine for my child?

Depending on the age of your child, you should be contacted by your GP surgery or your child’s school about the flu vaccine.

If you want to get the flu vaccine for yourself, you can do so easily in your local pharmacy. We’re partnered with the NHS which means we can give free flu jabs to eligible adults. If you’re not eligible for a free vaccine, you can get your jab privately for just £12.