The flu and flu vaccines

The flu is an unpleasant illness caused by the influenza virus infecting the respiratory system, including your nose, throat and lungs. Flu will often get better on its own, but it can make some people seriously ill, and can be life threatening. In a bad flu year on average around 30,000 people in the UK die from flu and pneumonia, with a loss of around 250,000 life years. 

Last year, due to lockdown restrictions, not as many people as usual had the flu. Scientists are now concerned that 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.

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.

You can have the NHS flu vaccine at: your GP surgery, a pharmacy offering the service, your midwifery service if you’re pregnant, or a hospital appointment. You don’t need to let your GP know if you get the vaccine elsewhere. This will be done for you.

About the flu

Flu symptoms come on very quickly and can include:

  • a sudden high temperature of 38C or above
  • an aching body
  • feeling tired or exhausted
  • a dry cough
  • a sore throat
  • a headache
  • difficulty sleeping
  • loss of appetite
  • diarrhoea or tummy pain
  • feeling sick and being sick

The symptoms are similar for children, but they can also get pain in their ear and appear less active.

The flu can be potentially very serious. Health officials have said because of lack of immunity this year there could be up to 60,000 deaths from flu.

For most people, flu is unpleasant but will get better after a few weeks. To help you get better more quickly:

  • rest and sleep
  • keep warm
  • take paracetamol or ibuprofen to lower your temperature and treat aches and pains
  • drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration (your pee should be light yellow or clear)

A pharmacist can give treatment advice and recommend flu remedies. Be careful not to use flu remedies if you’re taking paracetamol and ibuprofen tablets as it’s easy to take more than the recommended dose. Call a pharmacy or contact them online before going in person. Some pharmacies may offer to deliver medicines or you could ask someone to collect them. Find a pharmacy.

Get advice from 111 now if:

  • you’re worried about your baby’s or child’s symptoms
  • you’re 65 or over
  • you’re pregnant
  • you have a long-term medical condition – for example, diabetes or a heart, lung, kidney or neurological disease
  • you have a weakened immune system – for example, because of chemotherapy or HIV
  • your symptoms do not improve after 7 days

111 will tell you what to do. They can arrange a phone call from a nurse or doctor if you need one.

Go to 111.nhs.uk or call 111.

Call 999 or go to A&E if you:

  • develop sudden chest pain
  • have difficulty breathing
  • start coughing up blood

About the flu vaccine

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.

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

You can have the NHS flu vaccine at:

The nasal spray flu vaccine is free on the NHS for:

  • children aged 2 or 3 years on 31 August 2021 – born between 1 September 2017 and 31 August 2019
  • all primary school children (reception to year 6)
  • all year 7 to year 11 children in secondary school
  • children aged 2 to 17 years with long-term health conditions

If your child is aged between 6 months and 2 years and has a long-term health condition that makes them at higher risk from flu, they’ll be offered a flu vaccine injection instead of the nasal spray. This is because the nasal spray is not licensed for children under 2 years.

The nasal spray vaccine offers the best protection for children aged 2 to 17 years. They will be offered the flu vaccine injection if the nasal spray vaccine is not suitable for them.

Where your child will have their flu vaccine depends on their age. Further information can be found on the NHS website.

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. Any children who catch flu after vaccination are less likely to be seriously ill or be admitted to hospital.

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 may take around 10-14 days for the flu vaccine to work.

There are several types of injected flu vaccine. None of them contain live viruses so they cannot give you flu.

The nasal spray flu vaccine contains small amounts of weakened flu viruses. They do not cause flu in children.

All adult flu vaccines are given by injection into the muscle of the upper arm.

The children’s nasal spray vaccine is given as a spray squirted up each nostril. It’s quick and painless. The vaccine will still work even if your child gets a runny nose, sneezes or blows their nose.

Your child will be given 2 doses if they’re under 9 years old and have:

  • a long-term health condition that means they’re more at risk from flu
  • never had a flu vaccine before

These doses are given 4 weeks apart.

Flu vaccines are very safe.

Most side effects from the injected flu vaccine 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 – ffollow the dose advice in the packaging). Some people, including those who are pregnant, should not take ibuprofen unless a doctor recommends it

Most side effects of the nasal spray flu vaccine are mild and do not last long, such as:

  • a runny or blocked nose
  • a headache
  • tiredness
  • loss of appetite

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.

If you’re ill with a high temperature, it’s best to wait until you’re better before having the flu vaccine.

You may be asked to wait until your child is better before having the nasal spray flu vaccine if they have:

  • a very blocked or runny nose – these might stop the vaccine getting into their system
  • a high temperature

The nasal spray vaccine contains small traces of pork gelatine. If this is not suitable, speak to your child’s nurse or doctor about your options. Your child may be able to have an injected vaccine instead.

For information about the flu vaccine ingredients and allergies please visit:

Flu vaccines for adults

Yes, the flu vaccine is given every year. This is because the influenza virus mutates each winter, and the vaccine is modified to give you the best possible protection against the new virus strain.

Yes, if you’ve had COVID-19, it’s safe to have the flu vaccine. It will still be effective at helping to prevent flu. However, if you are ill with a high temperature on the day your flu vaccination is due, you should re-schedule the vaccination for when you feel better.

Could I get the flu and COVID-19 at the same time?

Yes, it is possible to get both COVID-19 and the flu together. This increases the risk of getting seriously unwell and needing hospital treatment. Research shows people infected with both flu and COVID-19 are more than twice as likely to die as someone with COVID-19 alone.

Yes. The booster vaccine won’t protect you from flu and the flu vaccine won’t protect you from COVID-19. It is very important that if you are eligible that you have both, to protect you against both of these serious winter illnesses.

If you are offered both vaccines, it’s safe to have them at the same time. However, some places might not be able to offer both vaccines at the same time, due to practical constraints such as vaccine supply and staffing. So, please accept either vaccination when it is offered to you and don’t delay – you will still be able to have the other vaccination when it is available in your area.

The COVID-19 vaccines and flu vaccine give you the best possible protection against these life-threatening viruses. If you are offered both vaccines, it’s safe to have them at the same time. A UK study found that administering a flu vaccine at the same time as a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine produced no safety concerns and preserves the immune response to both vaccines. For most people side effects from both vaccines were mild or moderate. 

Where the COVID vaccine and the flu vaccine are given together, you will be informed of the likely timings of potential side effects relating to each vaccine.

Read more about flu vaccine and side effects.

Read more about COVID vaccine and side effects

The flu vaccine is offered free on the NHS to anyone with a serious long-term health condition, including:

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.

Children with long-term health conditions, such as diabetes or heart problems, are at higher risk from flu. It’s important they’re vaccinated.

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.

Jess, a GP, shares why she had her flu and COVID-19 vaccine while pregnant.

Read more about having the flu vaccine during pregnancy.

People who are not eligible for a free flu vaccine can pay for it at their local pharmacy or some supermarkets. It is likely to cost around £15. Some companies offer the flu vaccine privately; speak to your manager to find out if your employer offers this.

Flu vaccines for under 18s

The children’s nasal spray flu vaccine is safe and effective. It’s offered every year to children to help protect them against flu.

Flu is caused by the influenza virus. It can be a very unpleasant illness for children. It can also lead to serious problems, such as bronchitis and pneumonia.

Children can catch and spread flu easily. Vaccinating them also protects others who are vulnerable to flu, such as babies and older people.

Information:

If you have any questions about vaccinations, you can:

• Ask your GP surgery or other healthcare professionals for advice

• Read more about why vaccination is safe and important

The children’s nasal spray flu vaccine is safe and effective. It’s offered every year to children to help protect them against flu.

Flu is caused by the influenza virus. It can be a very unpleasant illness for children. It can also lead to serious problems, such as bronchitis and pneumonia.

Children can catch and spread flu easily. Vaccinating them also protects others who are vulnerable to flu, such as babies and older people.

The nasal spray flu vaccine is free on the NHS for:

  • Children aged 2 or 3 years on 31 August 2021 – born between 1 September 2017 and 31 August 2019
  • All primary school children (reception to year 6)
  • All year 7 to year 11 children in secondary school
  • Children aged 2 to 17 years with long-term health conditions

If your child is aged between 6 months and 2 years and has a long-term health condition that makes them at higher risk from flu, they’ll be offered a flu vaccine injection instead of the nasal spray.

This is because the nasal spray is not licensed for children under 2 years.

The nasal spray vaccine offers the best protection for children aged 2 to 17 years. They will be offered the flu vaccine injection if the nasal spray vaccine is not suitable for them.

Some children will be offered the injected flu vaccine if they have:

  • A severely weakened immune system
  • Asthma that’s being treated with steroid tablets or that has needed intensive care in hospital
  • A flare-up of asthma symptoms (such as been wheezy in the past 72 hours or are currently wheezy) and need to use a reliever inhaler more than usual
  • Had an allergic reaction to a flu vaccine in the past
  • A condition that needs salicylate treatment

If you’re not sure, check with the school immunisation team, the nurse or GP at your surgery, or a hospital specialist.

The injected flu vaccine is given as a single injection into the muscle of the upper arm, or the thigh for children under 1 year.

Children with long-term health conditions, such as diabetes or heart problems, are at higher risk from flu.

It’s important they’re vaccinated.

Examples of long-term health conditions

Long-term conditions that qualify for the NHS flu vaccine include:

A table showing a child’s age and where the flu vaccine is available on the NHS.

Child’s ageWhere to have the flu vaccine
From 6 months until 2 years
(with long-term condition)
GP surgery
From 2 years until child
starts primary school
GP surgery
All children at primary schoolSchool
Year 7 to year 11 secondary school childrenSchool
Children in reception to year 11
(with long-term condition)
School or GP surgery
Home-schooled children
(same ages as reception to year 11)
Community clinic

Home-schooled children should be invited for vaccination by the local healthcare team. If you do not hear from them, ask your child’s GP where they should go for vaccination.

You can ask the GP surgery to give the vaccine instead of having it at school if you prefer.

If your child is not in reception to year 11, ask the GP surgery to give the vaccine.

You may be asked to wait until your child is better before having the nasal spray flu vaccine if they have:

  • A very blocked or runny nose – these might stop the vaccine getting into their system
  • A high temperature

The vaccine is given as a spray squirted up each nostril. It’s quick and painless.

The vaccine will still work even if your child gets a runny nose, sneezes or blows their nose.

Your child will be given 2 doses if they’re under 9 years old and have:

  • A long-term health condition that means they’re more at risk from flu
  • Never had a flu vaccine before

These doses are given 4 weeks apart.

The nasal spray flu vaccine gives children the best protection against flu.

It may take around 2 weeks for the flu vaccine to work.

Any children who catch flu after vaccination are less likely to be seriously ill or be admitted to hospital.

The nasal spray flu vaccine for children is very safe. Most side effects are mild and do not last long, such as:

  • A runny or blocked nose
  • A headache
  • Tiredness
  • Loss of appetite

If your child has the injected flu vaccine, side effects include:

  • A sore arm (or thigh) where the injection was given
  • A slightly raised temperature
  • Aching muscles

These side effects usually last for a day or 2.

It’s rare for anyone to have a serious allergic reaction to the flu vaccine. If they do, it usually happens within minutes.

The person who vaccinates you or your child will be trained to deal with allergic reactions and treat them immediately.

Gelatine, neomycin and gentamicin allergies

Let your doctor or nurse know if your child has had severe allergic reactions to:

  • Gelatine
  • The antibiotics neomycin and gentamicin

Egg allergies

The nasal spray flu vaccine has a low egg content and is safe to give in school or in a clinic to children who do not have a serious egg allergy.

Children who have previously needed intensive care in hospital for an egg allergy may be offered the nasal spray vaccine in hospital.

If you’re not sure, check with the school immunisation team, the nurse or GP at your surgery, or a hospital specialist.

Information:

For more advice on what to expect after vaccinations and how to treat common side effects, read vaccination tips for parents.

The nasal spray flu vaccine contains small amounts of weakened flu viruses. They do not cause flu in children.

As the main flu viruses can change each year, a new nasal spray vaccine has to be given each year.

The brand of nasal spray flu vaccine available in the UK is called Fluenz Tetra.

The nasal spray vaccine contains small traces of pork gelatine. If this is not suitable, speak to your child’s nurse or doctor about your options.

Your child may be able to have an injected vaccine instead.

You can find a full list of ingredients in the Fluenz Tetra nasal spray patient information leaflet on the emc website.

Information:

Find out more about the injected flu vaccine

Further information