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Flu vaccine FAQs

When am I most at risk from flu?

Flu circulates every winter and generally peaks in December and January. This means many people get ill around the same time.

But it's impossible to predict how many cases of flu there will be each year or exactly when it will peak.

Does everyone need a flu vaccine?

No, just people who are at particular risk of problems if they catch flu.

Ask a GP about having an NHS flu vaccine if:

  • you're aged 65 or over
  • you're pregnant
  • you have a serious medical condition
  • you live in a residential or nursing home
  • you're the main carer for an elderly or disabled person whose welfare may be at risk if you get ill
  • you live with someone who's at high risk of coronavirus (on the NHS shielded patient list)
  • your child is in an at-risk group and is aged 6 months or older

Some pharmacies also offer free NHS flu vaccination to adults and social care workers in the categories listed above. They do not offer this service for children. 

You should also have the flu vaccine if you're a healthcare or social care worker directly involved in patient care.

You may also be able to have the flu vaccine at the GP surgery or a local pharmacy offering the service if you're a frontline health or social care worker employed by a:

  • registered residential care or nursing home
  • registered homecare organisation
  • hospice

You can also have the flu vaccine if you provide health or social care through Direct Payments (personal budgets) or Personal Health Budgets (such as Personal Assistants) or both.

Find out more about who should have the flu vaccine.

Why are certain groups targeted for the flu vaccine?

Complications such as bronchitis and pneumonia are more common in people with other conditions, especially if they're also older.

In long-stay residential homes, vaccination helps prevent the rapid spread of flu among residents.

Why are people who live with those on the NHS shielded patient list being offered a flu vaccine?

The NHS wants to keep those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19 well this winter and does not want them to catch flu.

If you live with someone who's on the NHS shielded patient list, or you expect to be with them on most days over winter, then you should ask for a free flu vaccine.

How long will the flu vaccine protect me for?

The flu vaccine will provide protection for you for the upcoming flu season. People eligible for flu vaccination should have the vaccine each year.

Can I have the flu vaccine while I'm taking antibiotics?

Yes, it's fine to have the flu vaccine while you're taking a course of antibiotics, provided you're not ill with a high temperature.

How long does the flu vaccine take to become effective?

It takes between 10 and 14 days for your immune system to respond fully after you have had the flu vaccine.

If I had the flu vaccine last year, do I need it again now?

Yes. The viruses that cause flu can change every year, which means the flu (and the vaccine) this winter may be different from last winter.

Can the flu vaccine cause flu?

No. The vaccine does not contain any live viruses, so it cannot cause flu.

You may get a slight temperature and aching muscles for a couple of days afterwards, and your arm may feel a bit sore where you had the injection.

Other reactions are rare, and flu vaccines have a good safety record.

For children, the nasal spray vaccine cannot cause flu because the viruses in it have been weakened to prevent this happening.

When is the best time to get my flu vaccine?

The best time to have a flu vaccine is in the autumn, before flu starts circulating. But even if it's later, it's always worth getting vaccinated.

Is there anyone who cannot have the flu vaccine?

Yes. You should not have the flu vaccine if you have ever had an allergic reaction to a flu vaccine or one of its ingredients. This happens very rarely.

You also need to take precautions if you have an egg allergy.

Find out who should not have the flu vaccine.

Can I get the flu vaccine privately?

Adults who are not eligible for a flu vaccine on the NHS can pay for a flu vaccine privately.

The flu vaccine may be available from pharmacies or in supermarkets.

It's provided on a private patient basis and you have to pay. The vaccine costs up to £20.

Can I have a flu vaccine if I'm breastfeeding?

Yes. The vaccine poses no risk to a breastfeeding mother or her baby, or to pregnant women.

Is it OK to have the flu vaccine during pregnancy?

Yes. In fact, it's important to get the flu vaccine if you're pregnant.

It's safe to have at any stage of pregnancy, including in the first trimester and right up to the expected due date.

It helps protect the mother-to-be and newborn baby from catching flu.

Find out more about the flu vaccine in pregnancy.

Page last reviewed: 11 July 2019
Next review due: 11 July 2022