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Can kids get the nasal flu vaccine?
Q: I get the flu shot every year because I have diabetes. My kids (ages 5 and 7) are healthy, but I want to make sure they’re protected against the flu. Recently, my 5-year-old had his kindergarten shots, and now he’s scared to death of shots. I’ve heard about a flu vaccine that’s not a shot. Can kids get it?
Paul Dayton
A: Paul, it’s good that you’re thinking about protecting your family against the flu during the winter months, from October through March. You’re right that the flu vaccine called FluMist is not an injection but a nasal spray. The nasal flu vaccine has been approved for healthy children and adults between 5 and 49 years of age. This means that your 5- and 7-year-olds could receive it since they don’t have any chronic illnesses.

Children between 5 and 8 who are receiving the flu vaccine for the first time need two doses to be effective—it’s best to receive the first dose in October and the second dose six to 10 weeks later. After the first year, they’ll need just one yearly dose. Remember that people like you, with chronic medical conditions, children under age 5, pregnant women and people 50 years of age and older should continue to get the injected flu vaccine each year.

The nasal flu vaccine contains live but weakened flu viruses, unlike the flu shot, which contains killed viruses. When the vaccine is sprayed into the nose, it makes the body develop antibodies to protect against the flu viruses. The nasal flu vaccine has been found to be very effective in children, cutting the chance of catching the flu by approximately 90 percent. Side effects of the vaccine are rare and similar to a mild case of the flu. They include runny nose, headache, vomiting, muscle aches and fever.

Check with your children’s doctor to see whether the FluMist vaccine is offered. If it’s not available through your doctor, check with the immunization program at your local department of public health.

Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician