Boost your immunity this winter with the free NHS flu vaccination.
Flu occurs every year and most people usually recover within a week or so, but for some, the disease can be dangerous and increase the risk of developing more serious illnesses. In the worst cases, flu can result in a stay in hospital or even death.
Having a flu vaccine is the most effective way to boost our natural immunity and protect ourselves, our communities, and our loved ones from the harmful effects of flu this winter.
Why do I need a vaccine?
Flu can both be life-threatening and spread more easily in winter, when we are all crowded together inside.
It's so important to make sure you are protected against potentially serious winter illnesses such as the flu.
Even if you were vaccinated against flu last year, you will need another this winter as the virus can change from year-to-year. Boost your immunity this winter by getting the free vaccine.
Where and when to get the flu vaccine
It’s best to have the flu vaccination in the autumn before flu starts spreading in winter.
The flu vaccine is offered to people most at risk of getting seriously ill from flu or who are most likely to pass flu to other people at risk.
If you're eligible for the flu vaccine, the NHS will let you know when you can get it.
You can have the NHS flu vaccine at:
- your GP surgery
- a pharmacy offering the service – if you're aged 18 or over
To get the vaccination, speak to your GP or practice nurse or pharmacist, or visit the NHS website.
School-aged children will receive their vaccination from a trained health professional at school.
Who can have the free flu vaccine?
The flu vaccine is offered for free on the NHS to people who:
- are 65 and over (including those who will be 65 by 31 March 2024)
- have certain health conditions (see below for list of 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 a severe infection due to a weakened immune system, such as someone living with HIV, someone who has had a transplant, or is having certain treatments for cancer, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis
- are age 2-3 and school age children from reception up to Year 11 (see below for details)
Flu vaccine for children
Children can catch and spread flu easily. Vaccinating them also protects others who are vulnerable to flu, such as babies and older people.
The children's nasal spray flu vaccine is safe and effective. It's offered every year to children to help protect them against flu.
The nasal spray flu vaccine is free on the NHS for:
- children aged 2 or 3 years on 31 August 2023 (born between 1 September 2019 and 31 August 2021)
- all primary school children (Reception to Year 6)
- some secondary school aged children (Year 7 to Year 11)
- children aged 2 to 17 years with certain long-term health conditions
The nasal spray vaccine offers the best protection for children aged 2 to 17 years. They'll be offered a flu vaccine injection if the nasal spray vaccine is not suitable for them. Injected flu vaccines are also safe and effective.
Children aged 2 and 3 years will be given the vaccination at their general practice, usually by the practice nurse. School-aged children and young people will be offered the flu vaccine in school. For most children, the vaccine will be given as a spray in each nostril. This is a very quick and painless procedure.
The nasal spray vaccine contains small traces of pork gelatine. If this is not suitable, parents and guardians can request an alternative injection which does not contain gelatine.
School aged children who miss their vaccination at school, are home schooled or who require an injected alternative to the nasal spray can be booked into a community clinic. Please contact the CNWL School Age Immunisations Service on 0203 317 5076 to make an appointment.
Flu vaccine for people with certain health conditions
The flu vaccine is offered free on the NHS to people with certain long-term health conditions, including:
- respiratory conditions, such as asthma (needing a 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 cirrhosis or hepatitis
- some neurological conditions, such as Parkinson's disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), or cerebral palsy
- a learning disability
- problems with your spleen like sickle cell disease, or if you've had your spleen removed
- a weakened immune system as a 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 health condition that is not in one of these groups. They should offer you a flu vaccine if they think you're at risk of serious health problems if you get flu.
Flu frequently asked questions
Is the vaccine safe?
The flu vaccines have a good safety record. Flu vaccines that have been licensed in England have been thoroughly tested before they're made available, and have been used in other countries with a good safety record. Serious side effects of the injected flu vaccine are very rare.
What about the nasal vaccine?
The children's nasal spray flu vaccine is safe and effective. It's offered every year to children to help protect them against flu. The nasal spray is squirted up each nostril. It's quick and painless.
The nasal vaccine contains a small traces of highly processed form of porcine gelatine. The gelatine helps to keep the vaccine viruses stable.
If the nasal spray vaccine is not suitable, please speak to your child’s nurse or doctor about your options. You can request an alternative injection that does not contain gelatine.
Why are pregnant women advised to have the flu vaccine?
A flu jab will help protect both you and your baby.
There is good evidence that pregnant women have a higher chance of developing complications if they get flu, particularly in the later stages of pregnancy.
Pregnancy changes how the body responds to infections such as flu. Having flu increases the chances of pregnant women and their babies needing intensive care.
If you have flu while you're pregnant, it could cause your baby to be born prematurely or have a low birthweight, and may even lead to stillbirth or death.
Is the flu vaccine safe in pregnancy?
Yes. Studies have shown that it's safe to have a flu vaccine during any stage of pregnancy, from the first few weeks up to your expected due date.
Women who have had a flu vaccine while pregnant also pass some protection on to their babies, which lasts for the first few months of their lives.
It's safe for women who are breastfeeding to have a flu vaccine if they're eligible (for example, because of a long-term health condition).
Is your question not answered?
Take a look at the NHS mythbusters for more.