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. However, it is 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 your 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 to 2 years

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 are a healthcare or social care worker directly involved in patient care.

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 are also older.

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

Can a GP vaccinate anyone else?

The final decision about whether you should be offered the vaccination on the NHS is a matter for your GP, based on your medical history and circumstances.

Is my child entitled to the flu vaccine?

Children aged 2 and 3 plus children in reception class and school years 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 are eligible for the free nasal spray flu vaccine as well as all 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?

In 2018 there are 3 different types of flu vaccine:

  • a live quadrivalent vaccine (which protects against 4 strains of flu), given as a nasal spray – this is for children and young people aged 2 to 17 years eligible for the flu vaccine
  • a quadrivalent injected vaccine – this is for adults aged 18 and over but below the age of 65 who are at increased risk from flu because of a long-term health condition and for children 6 months and above in an eligible group who cannot receive the live vaccine
  • an adjuvanted trivalent injected vaccine – this is for people aged 65 and over as it has been shown to be more effective in this age group

If your child is aged between 6 months and 2 years old and is in a high-risk group for flu, they will be offered an injected flu vaccine as the nasal spray is not licensed for children under 2.

Why am I being asked to wait to have my flu vaccine?

It's important that you benefit from having the most effective vaccine. If you are aged 65 and over, this is the newly available adjuvanted trivalent vaccine.

This year (2018/19), deliveries of the vaccine are being made in phases, so you may have to wait until your GP surgery or pharmacy receives their next delivery of the vaccine.

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

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

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've 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 from 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've 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 one of its ingredients. This happens very rarely. You also need to take precautions if you have an egg allergy.

Read more about who should not have the flu vaccine.

Can I get the flu vaccine privately?

Adults who aren't 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 is 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 is important to get the flu vaccine if you are pregnant. It is 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.

Read more about the flu vaccine in pregnancy.

Page last reviewed: 24/08/2018
Next review due: 24/08/2019