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 and COVID can both be life-threatening and spread more easily in winter, when we are all crowded together inside.
As we learn to live with COVID-19, 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.
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.
This year, the free vaccine will be offered to those most at risk from flu first. This includes younger children, older people (65 years and over), those in clinical risk groups and pregnant women.
From mid-October, people aged 50 to 64 years old that aren’t in a clinical risk group, will also be able to get a free flu vaccine. Please wait until mid-October before booking an appointment with your GP practice or a local community pharmacy so those most at risk can get their vaccine first.
School-aged children will receive their vaccination from a trained health professional at school.
Who can receive the flu vaccine
The flu vaccine is given free on the NHS to people who:
- are 50 or 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
The children’s nasal spray flu vaccine is offered every year to children (aged 2 to 17 years old) to help protect them against flu. Flu can be a very unpleasant illness for children and can lead to serious problems, such as bronchitis and pneumonia.
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 speak to their child's nurse or doctor about the non-porcine flu injection for children.
COVID-19 autumn booster vaccination
Some people are being offered a COVID booster vaccination this autumn, this includes health and social care workers, anyone over 50 and people with health conditions. You will be offered a booster dose at least 3 months after your last dose. If you have not had a first or second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine yet, you should have them as soon as possible.
Visit the NHS website to find out more about the COVID-19 booster vaccine and who can get it.
If you are offered both vaccines, it's safe to have them at the same time.
The flu and COVID-19 vaccine in pregnancy
It is safe to have the flu and COVID-19 vaccines during any stage of pregnancy, from the first few weeks up to your expected due date.
If you have the vaccine while pregnant, you'll also pass some protection on to your baby, which lasts for the first few months of their lives. It's safe to have both vaccines while breastfeeding if you are eligible. It’s also safe to have both the flu vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine at the same time.
According to the NHS website, there is good evidence of a higher chance of developing complications if you get flu during pregnancy, particularly in the later stages. One of the most common complications of flu is bronchitis, a chest infection that can become serious and develop into pneumonia. If flu is contracted while pregnant, it could cause the baby to be born prematurely or have a low birthweight. This could increase the need for admission to intensive care for mum and baby and may even lead to stillbirth or death.
Most people who get COVID-19 while pregnant experience no, or mild to moderate symptoms, but a small number become seriously unwell. COVID-19 infection in pregnancy has been linked to an increased risk of preterm labour and stillbirth. Almost all pregnant individuals with serious illness requiring hospitalisation and admission to intensive care for COVID-19 have been unvaccinated.
If you get flu and get COVID-19 at the same time, the symptoms are likely to be more serious
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.
Some faith groups accept the use of gelatine in medical products - the decision is up to you. Find out more about vaccines with porcine gelatine
If the nasal spray vaccine is not suitable, please speak to your child’s nurse or doctor about your options.
Is your question not answered?
Take a look at the NHS mythbusters for more.