Side Effects of the Flu Shot in Kids

Benefits of Vaccination Outweighs Any Possible Risk

Vaccine
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There have long been myths and misconceptions about the flu shot, especially when it comes to young children and toddlers. One of the most common is that it causes the flu, an impossibility since the vaccine is not made with a live virus.

Even when it is delivered with the FluMist nasal spray (which is a live vaccine), it is created from a weakened form of the virus which is scientifically unable to cause the flu.

By and large, kids tolerate their flu shots well but, like adults, may experience side effects that are typically transient and non-severe. All in all, the benefits of the flu shot far outweigh any discomfort a person may experience, most especially young children who are more prone to serious flu complications.

Common Flu Shot Side Effects

There is no side-stepping the fact that flu shots can cause side effects, especially in younger children who may be getting their shots for the first time. Most typically last a day or two and are almost always mild. The most common side effects include:

  • Pain and swelling at the injection site
  • Low-grade fever
  • Muscle aches
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Nausea

If any side effect seems concerning to you, follow your instincts and call your pediatrician. On the other hand, if there is facial swelling, breathing difficulty, vomiting, hives, dizziness, rapid pulse, or fainting, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room immediately.

While rare, allergic reactions can sometimes occur, including potentially life-threatening anaphylaxis.

In the event of fever, do not use aspirin as this can cause a rare but serious condition in children called Reye's syndrome, an illness characterized by the swelling of the liver and brain.

Common Flu Nasal Spray Reactions

Because parents fear needles as much as children, more and more are opting for the FluMist nasal spray.

Introduced in 2003, the FluMist vaccine is today approved for use in people age two to 49. While fast and easy to administer, the spray does have a number of possible side effects. The most common include:

  • Runny nose
  • Nasal congestion
  • A cough or sore throat
  • Low-grade fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • General malaise

Children should not be given the FluMist vaccine if they are allergic to eggs or gelatin. As with the flu shot, neither children nor teens should be given aspirin to treat fever.

How to Tell a Symptom From a Side Effect

If your child feels unwell after getting the flu vaccine, it is understandable to assume that it was related to the shot. In some cases, however, it may just be a coincidence, especially if your child is in daycare or around other sick children.

It is important to differentiate this because some parents will attribute a symptom or illness to the flu shot and swear to never use it again. This is a mistake. Before jumping the gun and drawing the wrong conclusion, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Has your child had the flu shot before? If your child has had one before without a reaction, it is unlikely the symptoms caused by the vaccine.
  • When did the symptoms begin? Flu shot symptoms usually appear within six to 12 hours. If an illness appears two to three days after getting the shot, it is probably unrelated.
  • What other symptoms does your child have? Since the symptoms of a flu shot are pretty non-specific, any number of things may have caused them. If an isolated symptom appears, such as nasal congestion, ask yourself if there any other possible cause for this (such as hay fever or a developing cold).
  • Is anyone else sick? If your child gets sick after the flu shot (as opposed to feeling unwell or tired), find out if other mothers have experienced the same with their kids. This is especially true in your child is in daycare where viruses are readily passed from one toddler to the next.
  • How long has your child been sick? If a symptom persists for more than two days or worsens, it is unlikely that flu is the cause. In such case, it's best to see your pediatrician as soon as possible.

    In the unlikely event your child has the same reaction year after year, then it is probably not a coincidence. You may need to avoid the flu shot and speak with your pediatrician about using FluMist as an alternative.

    You should also report the reaction to the Vaccine Adverse Event Report System, a safety surveillance program managed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    Source:

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Prevention and Control of Influenza with Vaccines: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, United States, 2015–16 Influenza Season." MMWR. 2015; 64(30);818-825.

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