Children and flu

Flu is the leading cause of hospitalisation in children

Why it is important for children under 5 to be vaccinated for the flu

Children are much more likely to contract the flu in any given season compared to adults. Children under 5 have some of the highest rates of the flu and associated complications causing the most hospital admissions of all other vaccine preventable diseases in children of this age.

The flu can cause substantial illness in children, which may require a visit to the emergency department or GP due to high fever, cough, pneumonia and convulsions. Whilst rare, severe complications such encephalitis (life threatening brain inflammation) can also occur.

Not only are the flu infection rates generally highest among children, children also contribute greatly to transmission of the flu in the community (super spreaders).

Vaccination is proven to reduce a child’s risk of contracting the flu and suffering from its complications.

Vaccinating young children protects the wider community by reducing the amount of virus circulating in the community. It also helps protect people who are more vulnerable to serious complications from flu such as babies, older people and people with chronic medical conditions.

It’s recommended that children receive their first influenza vaccine at 6 months and annually thereafter. There is no specific schedule, however it is recommended that children should be vaccinated prior to the flu season, no matter what age they are (as long as they are 6 months or older).

Flu symptoms for children

Little girl has flu symptoms

Flu symptoms may include:

  • High fever
  • Listlessness/Lack of energy
  • Cough and sore throat
  • Loss of appetite
  • Headache
  • Body aches
  • Diarrhoea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Chills
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose

About the flu

Influenza or ‘the flu’ is a highly contagious disease that mainly affects the upper airways and lungs. The flu is not the same as a common cold, the disease varies in severity and may be mild to moderate in some cases but severe in others and can sometimes cause serious complications which require hospitalisation or worse be fatal.

Young boy feeling sick

The flu viruses are classified into different types (A and B) and sub-types. Flu viruses constantly evolve and mutate. Therefore, it is important that you are vaccinated annually to ensure you are best protected against the circulating flu strains for that year.

The flu is spread easily, mainly through sneezing and coughing. Droplets containing the flu virus also settle onto surfaces, such as telephones, door knobs etc., and can then pass from hands to the nose, mouth or eyes. People with the flu can be infectious to others from 24 hours before the onset of symptoms and up to a week after the start of symptoms.

Vaccination is the best protection from the flu

Vaccination is the best way to reduce the risk of preventing the flu and its complications. Being vaccinated gives you protection against flu by building immunity to the virus and preventing transmission of the virus to other people and is recommended annually for any person over 6 months of age.

Young girl looking sad and sick

Vaccination is required annually, as immunity from the vaccine decreases over time. The vaccine can change each year to cover the current circulating virus strains. It generally takes 10 to 14 days to be fully protected after vaccination.

The flu season usually peaks in most of Queensland during the winter months however can be present all year round.

FREE flu vaccines for children 6 month to less than 5 years

From 2018 the flu vaccine will be provided free of charge for all Queensland children aged 6 months to less than 5 years.

Under the National Immunisation Program, flu vaccine for children is provided free for any individual over 6 months of age with medical conditions predisposing to severe influenza and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children 6 months to less than 5 years. The new program extends eligibility to all Queensland children 6 months to less than 5 years.

Young boy has headache

The childhood flu program provides young children with the best chance of protection against the flu and the vaccines are safe and effective.

The free vaccine can be accessed at GPs and immunisation clinics provided by some local councils and community health services. Please note: While the vaccine will be free, some providers will administer the vaccine free of charge but others may charge a consultation fee.

Dosage required

A child will require two doses if this is the first time they are receiving the flu vaccine, administered at least 4 weeks apart. Both will be free. Children who have previously been vaccinated against the flu require only a single dose.

Irrespective of whether the mother has been vaccinated against the flu during pregnancy, infants 6 months of age and older should be vaccinated annually.

Help fight the flu

Practising cough etiquette (such as covering the nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing) and good hand hygiene can help to reduce the likelihood of transmitting and contracting the flu virus. Anyone who is unwell with the flu should stay home from school, work and social gatherings to prevent close contact with other people.

Young boy has flu symptoms

Five easy steps to help fight the flu:

  • Get a flu shot each year
  • Wash your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol based hand rub
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes
  • Dispose of any used tissues immediately – the flu virus can live outside the human body for a number of hours
  • Stay at home if you have flu symptoms

Possible vaccination side effects

Common side effects from the vaccine are usually mild, and will pass within a few days, however may include redness or mild pain at the site of injection, muscle aches, fever, and headache. Severe adverse reactions to the vaccine are very rare.

Flu facts

The flu vaccine cannot give you the flu

There is no live virus in the flu vaccine. However, the vaccine may cause a reaction that feels a bit like the flu, and occasionally, people can get a fever, but it’s not a real flu infection. It is important to understand that most common reactions people have to flu vaccines are considerably less severe than the symptoms caused by actual flu illness.

The flu virus can survive for a number of hours on hard surfaces such as handles, rails and door knobs

When you are on the go, use alcohol-based hand rub to decontaminate your hands. When your hands are not visibly dirty you can use an alcohol based hand rub. Wash your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds.

FAQs

Why isn’t the vaccine free for children 5 years of age and over?

Children under five are being offered free vaccine because of all the vaccine-preventable diseases, influenza causes the most hospital admissions of children under five years of age. Children 5 years of age and over are not eligible for free influenza vaccine but still benefit from vaccination, and it can be obtained under private prescription from your doctor.

Is it true that the flu vaccine causes febrile seizures in children under five?

Febrile seizures (or convulsions) can be triggered by fever from any cause. A small number of children (2-4%) are susceptible to febrile seizures up until about six years of age. The seizures themselves usually last around one or two minutes and loss of consciousness is possible. Nearly all children who have a febrile seizure, regardless of the cause, will recover quickly without any ongoing effects or permanent neurological (brain) damage.

Influenza itself can cause fever which may result in febrile seizures. Febrile seizures related to fever after influenza vaccination are uncommon and occur in less than one in every 1,000 children who receive the vaccine.

Enhanced safety monitoring systems for influenza vaccines introduced in recent years, such as AusVaxSafety, have confirmed that influenza vaccine is safe in children under five years of age, with low rates of fever and medical attendance reported after vaccination.

Can my child get flu vaccine if they have an egg allergy?

Although influenza vaccines are grown in eggs, due to new vaccine manufacturing methods, the amount of material from the egg in the influenza vaccine is small (usually less than one microgram of egg protein per dose). Recent studies have shown that people with egg allergy, including egg-induced anaphylaxis, have safely received the influenza vaccine. Even though the risk of anaphylaxis or an adverse event is very low, if your child has this type of allergy you should seek advice about influenza vaccine from your healthcare provider, you may be advised to have your child vaccinated in a setting where immediate treatment for a possible reaction is available.

Is it safe for children to have the influenza vaccine at the same time as their scheduled childhood vaccines?

Yes. Childhood vaccines which are scheduled for children in the same months as the flu season, can safely be given to children at the same time. Speak to your doctor or vaccine provider about the best timing.

Why did I still get sick when I received the flu vaccine?

It takes 10-14 days to develop an immune response to the flu vaccine which means you are still able to catch the flu during that time, so have your flu vaccine before flu is widespread in your community. There are also other viruses that circulate during winter months that can also cause similar flu like symptoms such as the common cold virus and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) especially in the young and the elderly. Differences between cold and flu.

Do I really need a flu vaccine if I had one last year?

Everyone should have a flu vaccine every year because flu viruses constantly change. Flu viruses are quick-change artists. They reproduce rapidly, constantly mutate and exchange genes with each other. For these reasons there is a new flu vaccine every year.

Is the vaccine safe?

The flu vaccine is safe and effective.

Vaccines given to children in Australia must pass rigorous testing before being registered for use by Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). Even when the vaccine is registered for use, its safety continues to be monitored.

Find out more

For more information on flu immunisation or to find your nearest vaccine service provider, contact Queensland Health on 13 HEALTH (13 432 584).

Other resources

Read more about the flu here: Influenza

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