Flu (influenza) is a serious illness that can make your child extremely unwell. It can also be extremely serious in pregnant women and the elderly.
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Why should you have your child vaccinated?

All children between 2 and 11 years of age (year 6) should receive the children's flu vaccine. This is not only to stop them getting unwell with flu, but also to stop them spreading flu to other members of your family.

There are other groups of children with long-term health conditions that should have the flu vaccine every year. This includes children with weakened immune systems (including those on steroids or with problems with their spleen), chronic heart or lung problems, diabetes, asthma, chronic kidney or liver disease. It is especially important that these children are vaccinated because they have the greatest risk of becoming very unwell if they get flu. Children aged from 6 months to 2 years who are at risk from complications of flu should be given the inactivated (injected) flu vaccine rather than the intranasal vaccine.

Common myths about flu and the flu vaccine

'Flu isn't serious, so my child doesn't need a flu vaccine' and 'My children never get ill, so they don't need the vaccine'

It is tempting to think that flu is no worse than a bad cold, but in fact it is a serious disease which can infect anyone. For people at risk of complications, flu can lead to hospitalisation or even death. Flu leads to hundreds of thousands of GP visits and tens of thousands of hospital stays a year.

'Last year my children had the flu vaccine but they got ill anyway, so it doesn't work'

No vaccine is 100% effective, including the flu vaccine. However, the vaccine usually prevents about half of all flu cases. For people who get flu after being vaccinated, the disease is often less severe than it would have been. It is important to remember that the flu vaccine only protects against flu, but there are other illnesses which have flu-like symptoms which you can still catch after getting the flu vaccine. It takes up to two weeks for the vaccine to take effect, so you could still catch flu if you are exposed to the virus during this time. Getting vaccinated as early as possible in the season can help to prevent this.

Use this video to explain to your child why they are having the flu vaccine

Why should pregnant women get vaccinated?

Flu is more severe in pregnant women than in non-pregnant women. It has the ability to cause:

Worsening of pre-existing health conditions, such as asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, sepsis (blood poisoning), hospitalisation, death (rarely).

Your risk of is higher if you also have one or more other known risk factors such as asthma or diabetes.

Will my baby benefit from me having the flu vaccine?

Yes.

If you receive the flu vaccine, you are less likely to catch flu and develop some of the associated complications. If you reduce your chance of catching flu, you also reduce the chance of miscarriage, stillbirth, premature labour and the risk of having a poorly grown baby as a result of flu.

Flu can be really a serious illness in new-born babies and the only way to protect them is to get vaccinated yourself when you are pregnant. Following vaccination, your baby will directly receive some of your newly made antibodies through the placenta which will offer them protection against the same four flu strains for at least the first 8 weeks of their life following birth. Some studies show babies can even be protected from flu for up to 6 months.

There is also another level of protection. By protecting yourself against flu, you are reducing the chance of catching flu and therefore reducing the chance of passing it on to your new-born baby.

When can I receive the flu vaccine?

Pregnant women should aim to have the flu vaccine as soon as possible in pregnancy from the beginning of September until the end of March. This may be right at the beginning of pregnancy, if you find out you are pregnant in the winter months, or towards the end of your pregnancy if you fell pregnant in the spring/summer months.

Sometimes you may be offered two flu vaccines in your pregnancy, if you have fallen pregnant at the end of one flu season and are still pregnant in September when the next flu season begins. This will cover you for both seasons of flu.

Is the flu vaccine safe in pregnancy?

It is not uncommon to worry about the decision to have vaccinations in pregnancy and health professionals understand that you need to have as much information before you make a decision to have a vaccination while pregnant.

Pregnant women have been included in the flu vaccination programme since 2010 following a flu epidemic that caused an increased in the number of deaths. Since its introduction, the flu vaccine has been given to millions of pregnant women across the UK.

Data from over 11 million women who have received the flu vaccine in pregnancy show that, apart from mild pain at the site of the injection, there is no evidence of an increased risk of birth defects or stillbirths.

Although possible, the risk of a severe allergic reaction (also known as anaphylaxis) is extremely low. All medicines and food ingested, injected or applied to the skin have a risk of causing this type of allergic reaction. Anaphylaxis is different from less severe allergic reactions because it causes life-threatening breathing and/or circulation problems. It is always extremely serious but all health care workers providing vaccines know how to treat this should it occur. The risk of a severe allergic reaction following an immunisation is around 1 in 900,000.

There is no risk of catching flu from receiving the flu vaccine. The vaccination provided has been deactivated (killed). Your immune system is likely to be very slightly weaker for 1-2 weeks while your body builds the protection against flu, so you are slightly more susceptible to picking up other bacterial/viral infections in this time should you come in contact with them.

Does the flu vaccine work in pregnancy?

The flu vaccine is the best way of protecting yourself against the virus during pregnancy. Currently the vaccine is thought to be around 60-70% effective for pregnant women and near 90% effective for babies born from vaccinated mothers.

Women vaccinated in pregnancy more than halve the risk of developing flu in pregnancy.

The flu vaccine reduces the risk of women having a premature baby by more than two thirds.

The flu vaccination, if given to pregnant women, has been shown to reduce the chance of babies being admitted to hospital with flu.

What side effects may I experience?

It is important to know that you cannot catch flu from having the flu vaccine. Most people do not even feel any side effects following a vaccine however for those that do you could expect the following:

Common – Discomfort, swelling or redness to site of injection

Unlikely – Headaches, shivering, mild fever or slight muscle aches

Extremely Rare – severe allergic reaction

If the side effects are bothering you, paracetamol should help relieve some of the symptoms.

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