Baby in diaper at doctor's office getting vaccine in leg.
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Erin van Vuuren

Are Flu Shots Safe for Baby?

Learn when and why baby should get the flu shot.

Wondering if flu shots are safe for baby? If your child is at least 6 months old, the government’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) says yes. Children 6 months to 5 years old are in the high risk category for flu complications, so immunization could literally be a life-saver.

Worried about mercury? You can check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention site for info on which flu shots do (and don’t) contain thimerosal (the preservative in some shots that contains ethlymercury). According to the CDC, “There is no convincing evidence of harm caused by the small amount of thimerosal in vaccines, except for minor effects like swelling and redness at the injection site due to sensitivity to thimerosal,” so don’t freak out if the shot you’re looking for isn’t available. But do your homework and ask your docs about your options—the government anticipates plenty of thermerosal-free vaccines to go around for the under 3 set.

If your child is 2 years old or older, there’s a mercury-free alternative available: the nasal spray vaccine, FluMist. The spray was previously only available to kids over 5, but it’s now approved for younger tots. Important note: the ACIP has recommended that the nasal spray not be used for the 2016-2017 flu season, since over the past few years it’s proven to not be very effective (studies show that it prevented flu in only 3 percent of children, compared with the flu shot’s 63 percent). You should definitely steer clear of the spray if baby has asthma or does a lot of wheezing—this one is not for those with respiratory issues.

If your baby is younger than 6 months or has an egg allergy (talk to your pediatrician if you aren’t sure), skip both forms of the vaccine.

Updated December 2016

Photo: Ariel Skelley / Getty Images