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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'll 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 vaccination 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 fall ill
  • your child is in an at-risk group and is aged 6 months or over

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 vaccination 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 your 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

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.

Is my child entitled to the flu vaccine?

Children eligible for the free nasal spray flu vaccine include:

  • children aged 2 and 3 on 31 August 2019
  • children in primary school
  • children with a health condition that puts them at greater risk from flu

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.

What type of flu vaccine will I be offered?

There are several types of flu vaccine.

You'll be offered 1 that's most effective for you, depending on your age:

  • children aged 2 to 17 in an eligible group are offered a live attenuated quadrivalent vaccine (LAIV), given as a nasal spray
  • adults aged 18 to 64 who are either pregnant, at increased risk from flu because of a long-term health condition, or a frontline health or social care worker are offered a quadrivalent injected vaccine – the vaccine offered will have been grown either in eggs or cells (QIVe or QIVc), both of which are considered to be equally effective
  • adults aged 65 and over will be offered either an adjuvanted trivalent injected vaccine grown in eggs (aTIV) or a cell-grown quadrivalent injected vaccine (QIVc) – both vaccines are considered to be equally effective

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 as the nasal spray is not licensed for children under 2.

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, from the beginning of October to the end of November.

If you have missed this time, you can have the flu vaccine later in the winter, although it's best to get it earlier.

Is there anyone who cannot have a flu vaccine?

Yes. You should not have the flu vaccine if you have ever had an allergic reaction to a flu vaccine or 1 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 vaccination 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.

Why is it recommended that healthcare workers are vaccinated?

Vaccination prevents healthcare workers passing flu on to, or getting flu from, their patients.

It also helps the NHS to keep running effectively during a flu outbreak, when GPs and hospital services are particularly busy.

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 her 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