The children's flu vaccine is offered as a yearly nasal spray to young children to help protect them against flu.
At what age should children have the nasal spray flu vaccine?
In the autumn/winter of 2020 to 2021, the vaccine will be available free on the NHS for eligible children, including:
- children aged 2 or 3 on 31 August 2020 – that is, children born between 1 September 2016 and 31 August 2018
- all primary school children
- all year 7 children (secondary school)
- children aged 2 to 17 with long-term health conditions
Who will give the children's flu vaccination?
Children aged 2 and 3 will be given the vaccination at their GP surgery, usually by the practice nurse.
Children who are 4 years old are also eligible for flu vaccination provided they were 3 on 31 August 2020.
These children should be offered the vaccination at their GP surgery.
Schoolchildren will be offered their vaccination in school. In a couple of areas, it might be offered in primary care settings.
Children who are home educated will also be offered the vaccine, provided they're in an eligible age group.
Children aged 4 years old whose entry to primary school has been deferred will also be offered the vaccine.
Parents can get information about how to arrange this from their local NHS England Public Health Commissioning team.
Children at higher risk from flu
Children with long-term health conditions, such as diabetes, serious heart conditions, underlying neurological problems and kidney or liver disease, are at higher risk from flu.
They're more likely to get severely ill if they catch flu and it could make their existing condition worse. This means it's especially important that they're vaccinated.
If your child is aged between 6 months and 2 years old and is in a high-risk group for flu, they'll be offered an injected flu vaccine.
This is because the nasal spray is not licensed for children under the age of 2.
Some children over the age of 2 who are in a high-risk group will also need to have an injected vaccine if the nasal spray vaccine is not suitable for them.
What are the side effects of the flu vaccine for children?
The nasal spray flu vaccine has few side effects, most commonly getting a runny nose after the vaccination for a few days.
How to get the flu vaccine for your child
Your child's GP or school should contact you about getting them vaccinated.
Talk to the GP, practice nurse or your child's school nurse if you want more information about when and how your child will be vaccinated against flu.
How is the nasal spray flu vaccine given?
The vaccine is given as a single spray squirted up each nostril.
It is needle-free, which is a big advantage for children, plus the nasal spray is quick, painless and works even better than the injected flu vaccine.
The vaccine is absorbed very quickly. It'll still work even if, after the vaccination, your child develops a runny nose, sneezes or blows their nose.
Are there any children who should delay having the nasal spray flu vaccine?
Children should have their nasal spray flu vaccination delayed if they're unwell with a high temperature.
The vaccination can be delayed until they feel better.
If a child has a heavily blocked or runny nose, it might stop the vaccine getting into their system.
In this case, their flu vaccination can be postponed until their nasal symptoms have cleared up.
Are there any children who should not have the nasal spray flu vaccine?
Children may not be able to have the nasal spray flu vaccine if they have:
- a severely weakened immune system
- a severe egg allergy with anaphylaxis that's led to intensive care hospital admission
- severe asthma, that is, those being treated with steroid tablets or who have needed intensive care because of their asthma
- are currently wheezy or have been wheezy in the past 72 hours
- an allergy to any of the vaccine ingredients, such as neomycin
- a condition that requires salicylate treatment
If your child is at high risk of flu as a result of 1 or more medical conditions or treatments and cannot have the nasal flu vaccine because of this, they should have the injected flu vaccine.
If you're not sure, check with the school immunisation team, the nurse or GP at your surgery, or a specialist.
Why children are offered flu vaccine
Flu is a very common infection in babies and children. It can be very unpleasant for them.
Children with flu have the same symptoms as adults, including a high temperature, chills, aching muscles, a headache, a stuffy nose, a dry cough and a sore throat lasting up to a week.
They may need hospital treatment, and very occasionally a child may die from flu.
In fact, healthy children under the age of 5 are more likely to have to be admitted to hospital with flu than any other age group.
Find out more in the leaflet Protecting your child against flu (PDF, 603kb).
How safe is the flu vaccine for children?
The flu vaccine for children has a good safety record. Millions of children in the UK have been vaccinated safely and successfully.
How does the children's flu vaccine work?
The vaccine contains live but weakened flu viruses that do not cause flu in children.
It'll help your child build up immunity to flu in a similar way as natural infection, but without the symptoms.
Because the main flu viruses change each year, a new nasal spray vaccine has to be given each year, in the same way as the injectable flu vaccine.
Stopping the spread of flu
The nasal spray flu vaccine will not only help protect your child against flu, the infection will also be less able to spread from them to their family, carers and the wider population.
Children spread flu because they generally do not use tissues properly or wash their hands.
Vaccinating children also protects others who are vulnerable to flu, such as babies, older people, pregnant women and people with serious long-term illnesses.
How many doses of the flu vaccine do children need?
Most children only need a single dose of the nasal spray.
The patient information leaflet provided with the nasal spray suggests children should be given 2 doses of this vaccine if they have not had the flu vaccine before.
But the NHS vaccination programme has advised that healthy children only need a single dose because a second dose of the vaccine provides little additional protection.
Children aged 2 to 9 years at risk of flu because of an underlying medical condition, who have not received flu vaccine before, should have 2 doses of the nasal spray given at least 4 weeks apart.
Page last reviewed: 8 July 2019
Next review due: 8 July 2022