The flu vaccine is a safe and effective vaccine. It’s offered every year on the NHS to help protect people at risk of getting seriously ill from flu.
The best time to have the flu vaccine is in the autumn or early winter before flu starts spreading. But you can get the vaccine later.
Flu vaccine and coronavirus (COVID-19)
Flu vaccination is important because:
- more people are likely to get flu this winter as fewer people will have built up natural immunity to it during the COVID-19 pandemic
- if you get flu and COVID-19 at the same time, research shows you’re more likely to be seriously ill
- getting vaccinated against flu and COVID-19 will provide protection for you and those around you for both these serious illnesses
If you’ve had COVID-19, it’s safe to have the flu vaccine. It will still be effective at helping to prevent flu.
COVID-19 booster vaccine
Some people may be eligible for both the flu and the COVID-19 booster vaccines.
If you are offered both vaccines, it’s safe to have them at the same time.
Who can have the flu vaccine?
The flu vaccine is given free on the NHS to people who:
- are 50 and over (including those who’ll be 50 by 31 March 2022)
- have certain health conditions
- are pregnant
- are in long-stay residential care
- receive a carer’s allowance, or are the main carer for an older or disabled person who may be at risk if you get sick
- live with someone who is more likely to get infections (such as someone who has HIV, has had a transplant or is having certain treatments for cancer, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis)
- frontline health or social care workers
Where to get the flu vaccine
You can have the NHS flu vaccine at:
- your GP surgery
- a pharmacy offering the service
- your midwifery service if you’re pregnant
- a hospital appointment
If you do not have your flu vaccine at your GP surgery, you do not have to tell the surgery. This will be done for you.
It’s important to go to your vaccination appointments unless you have symptoms of COVID-19.
How to book your appointment
If you’re eligible for a free flu vaccine, you can book an appointment at your GP surgery or a pharmacy that offers it on the NHS. You may also get an invitation to get the vaccine, but you do not have to wait for this before booking an appointment. Everyone who is eligible for the free flu vaccine will be able to get it.
GP surgeries and pharmacies get the flu vaccine in batches. If you cannot get an appointment straight away, ask if you can book an appointment for when more vaccines are available.
If you have an appointment for a COVID-19 booster vaccine at a GP surgery or pharmacy, you may also be offered a flu vaccine at the same time.
Do not delay booking your flu vaccine appointment so that you can get both vaccines together. Only some people will be offered both vaccines at the same time.
Flu vaccine for people with long-term health conditions
The flu vaccine is offered free on the NHS to anyone with a serious long-term health condition, including:
- respiratory conditions, such as asthma (needing steroid inhaler or tablets), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), including emphysema and bronchitis
- heart conditions, such as coronary heart disease or heart failure
- being very overweight – a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or above
- chronic kidney disease
- liver disease, such as hepatitis
- neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), or cerebral palsy
- a learning disability
- problems with your spleen, for example, sickle cell disease, or if you have had your spleen removed
- a weakened immune system as the result of conditions such as HIV and AIDS, or taking medicines such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy
Talk to your doctor if you have a long-term condition that is not in one of these groups. They should offer you the flu vaccine if they think you’re at risk of serious problems if you get flu.
Flu vaccine if you’re pregnant
You should have the flu vaccine if you’re pregnant to help protect you and your baby.
It’s safe to have the flu vaccine at any stage of pregnancy.
Flu vaccine for frontline health and social care workers
If you’re a frontline health and social care worker, your employer should offer you a flu vaccine. They may give the vaccine at your workplace.
You can also have an NHS flu vaccine at a GP surgery or a pharmacy if:
- you’re a health or social care worker employed by a registered residential care or nursing home, registered homecare organisation or a hospice
- you work in NHS primary care (such as in a GP surgery, pharmacy, dental surgery or opticians) and have direct contact with patients – this includes contractors, non-clinical staff and locums
- you provide health or social care through direct payments or personal health budgets, or both
Who should not have the flu vaccine
Most adults can have the flu vaccine, but you should avoid it if you have had a serious allergic reaction to a flu vaccine in the past.
You may be at risk of an allergic reaction to the flu vaccine injection if you have an egg allergy. This is because some flu vaccines are made using eggs.
Ask a GP or pharmacist for a low-egg or egg-free vaccine.
If you’re ill with a high temperature, it’s best to wait until you’re better before having the flu vaccine.
How effective is the flu vaccine?
The flu vaccine gives the best protection against flu. Flu vaccines help protect against the main types of flu viruses, although there’s still a chance you might get flu. If you do get flu after vaccination, it’s likely to be milder and not last as long. Having the flu vaccine will also stop you spreading flu to other people who may be more at risk of serious problems from flu. It can take 10 to 14 days for the flu vaccine to work.
Flu vaccine side effects
Flu vaccines are very safe. All adult flu vaccines are given by injection into the muscle of the upper arm.
Most side effects are mild and only last for a day or so, such as:
- slightly raised temperature
- muscle aches
- sore arm where the needle went in – this is more likely to happen with the vaccine for people aged 65 and over
Try these tips to help reduce the discomfort:
- continue to move your arm regularly
- take a painkiller, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen – some people, including those who are pregnant, should not take ibuprofen unless a doctor recommends it
Allergic reactions to the flu vaccine
It’s very rare for anyone to have a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to the flu vaccine. If this does happen, it usually happens within minutes.
The person who vaccinates you will be trained to deal with allergic reactions and treat them immediately.
Report a side effect
Anyone can report a suspected side effect of a vaccine through the Yellow Card Scheme.
Flu vaccine ingredients
There are several types of injected flu vaccine. None of them contain live viruses so they cannot give you flu.
If you’re eligible for the flu vaccine on the NHS, you’ll be offered one that’s most effective for you, depending on your age:
- adults aged 18 to 64 – there are different types, including low-egg and egg-free ones
- adults aged 65 and over – the most common one contains an extra ingredient to help your immune system make a stronger response to the vaccine
Children aged between 6 months and 2 years who have a long-term health condition are offered an approved injected flu vaccine instead of the nasal spray vaccine.
Talk to a GP, practice nurse or pharmacist for more information about these vaccines.
Read more about why vaccines are safe and important, including how they work and what they contain.