Flu vaccination is safe and effective. It's offered every year through the NHS to help protect people at risk of getting seriously ill from flu.
This page is about flu vaccination for adults.
Why flu vaccination is important
Flu vaccination is important because, while flu is unpleasant for most people, it can be dangerous and even life threatening for some people, particularly those with certain health conditions.
The best time to have your flu vaccine is in the autumn or early winter before flu starts spreading. But you can get your vaccine later.
Who can have the flu vaccine?
The flu vaccine is given free on the NHS to adults who:
- are 65 and over (including those who will be 65 by 31 March 2024)
- 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 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
How to get the flu vaccine
If you're eligible for an NHS flu vaccine, you can get your vaccine from:
- your GP surgery
- a pharmacy that offers NHS flu vaccination (if you're aged 18 or over)
- some maternity services (if you're pregnant)
You may receive an invitation to get vaccinated, but you do not have to wait for this before booking an appointment.
It's important to go to your vaccination appointments unless you have a high temperature or feel too unwell to go to work or do your normal activities.
Flu vaccine for people with long-term 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 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 a flu vaccine at any stage of pregnancy.
Flu vaccine for frontline health and social care workers
If you're a frontline health or social care worker, you should get your flu vaccine through your employer. They may give you the vaccine at your workplace through the occupational health scheme.
If you cannot get a flu vaccine through your employer, you can still get it if you're employed:
- by a registered residential care or nursing home
- by a registered domiciliary care provider
- by a voluntary managed hospice provider
- through direct payments or personal health budgets
If you are one of these frontline staff in a social care setting, you can get vaccinated at a pharmacy or the GP surgery you are registered with.
If you are employed by a registered residential care or nursing home, or a voluntary managed hospice provider, you may also be offered vaccination at your place of work when the residents or patients are vaccinated.
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?
Vaccination 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 a flu vaccine may help stop you spreading flu to other people who could 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:
- a slightly raised temperature
- muscle aches
- sore arm where the needle went in
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 and they cannot give you flu.
If you're eligible for the flu vaccine on the NHS, you'll be offered one that's most appropriate for you.
Talk to a GP, practice nurse or pharmacist for more information about these vaccines.
Read more about why vaccination is safe and important, including how they work and what they contain.
More information and other formats
- GOV.UK: flu vaccination: who should have it this winter and why (including how to request an accessible version)
- GOV.UK: flu vaccination easy read guides
Flu vaccination in other parts of the UK
- NHS Inform: flu vaccination in Scotland
- Public Health Wales: flu vaccination in Wales
- nidirect: flu vaccination in Northern Ireland
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Page last reviewed: 9 August 2023
Next review due: 5 September 2025