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The Newest Vaccine

Keeping your baby well this winter just got a little easier: An annual flu shot is now recommended for all healthy babies over 6 months of age during the October to March flu season, according to new guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is good news, since young children are at higher risk of being hospitalized for the flu. Caregivers and family members should also be vaccinated to avoid spreading the illness. Here are answers to the most common questions about the vaccine.

When should my baby receive the flu shot? It's manufactured specifically for each flu season and becomes available in doctors' offices in September or October. Parents should bring their child in for the immunization as soon as it's available, advises Margaret Rennels, M.D., chairman for the committee on infectious diseases for the AAP. Babies who have received the vaccine in the past need only one shot, while those who are being vaccinated against the flu for the first time will need a second one a month after the first.

Are there side effects? The most common side effects of the influenza vaccine are soreness at the injection site and fever, which occurs in 10 to 35 percent of children under 2 given the vaccine. Children who have been diagnosed with a severe egg allergy should not receive the shot without the approval of an allergist, because components of the immunization are grown in eggs, Dr. Rennels says, and could cause an allergic reaction.

Can my baby still get the flu if she's vaccinated? It's still possible to come down with the flu after being vaccinated, but it will likely be a milder case, Dr. Rennels says. (The flu shot doesn't protect kids against the many other respiratory illnesses that are out there, however.)

In young children, a case of the flu usually begins with a high fever, followed by symptoms like a runny nose, cough, or sore throat. While antiviral flu medications such as amantadine are now available for babies older than 1, they must be given within the first 48 hours of illness in order to help, Dr. Rennels says. Generally, doctors recommend giving a fever-reducer like infant Motrin or infant Tylenol, plenty of liquids (such as breast milk or formula), and rest. If the thought of making your child endure another shot is too tough, take heart that trials to approve the FluMist nasal vaccine for children under 5 are in the works.