The flu vaccine is a safe and effective vaccine. It’s offered every year on the NHS to help protect people at risk of flu and its complications.
This page is about the flu vaccine for adults.
The best time to have the flu vaccine is in the autumn before flu starts spreading. But you can get the vaccine later.
Flu vaccine and coronavirus (COVID-19)
Flu vaccination is important because:
- if you’re at higher risk from coronavirus, you’re also more at risk of problems from flu
- if you get flu and coronavirus at the same time, research shows you’re more likely to be seriously ill
- it’ll help to reduce pressure on the NHS and social care staff who may be dealing with coronavirus
If you’ve had COVID-19, it’s safe to have the flu vaccine. It’ll be effective at helping to prevent flu.
Changes have been made to make sure it’s safe for you to have the flu vaccine at GP surgeries and pharmacies. These changes include social distancing, hand washing, and wearing protective equipment.
It’s important to go to your appointments unless you or someone you live with has symptoms of coronavirus.
Who can have the flu vaccine?
The flu vaccine is given to people who:
- are 65 and over (including those who’ll be 65 by 31 March 2021)
- have certain health conditions
- are pregnant
- are in a 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’s at high risk from coronavirus (on the NHS shielded patient list)
- frontline health or social care workers
Advice for people aged 50 to 64
If you’re aged 50 to 64 and have a health condition that means you’re more at risk from flu, you should get your flu vaccine as soon as possible.
Other 50- to 64-year-olds will be contacted about a flu vaccine later.
Where to get the flu vaccine
You can have the NHS flu vaccine at:
- your GP surgery
- a pharmacy offering the service
- your midwifery service if you’re pregnant
If you have your flu vaccine at a pharmacy, you do not have to tell the GP. The pharmacist should tell them.
All adult flu vaccines are given by injection into the muscle of the upper arm.
Due to the high demand for the flu vaccine, there may be some delays in getting a vaccination appointment. Your GP surgery or pharmacy should be able to tell you when more appointments are available.
Flu vaccine for people with long-term health conditions
The flu vaccine is offered free on the NHS to anyone with a serious long-term health condition, including:
- respiratory conditions, such as asthma (needing 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 hepatitis
- neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, motor neuron disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), or cerebral palsy
- a learning disability
- problems with your spleen, for example, sickle cell disease, or if you have had your spleen removed
- a weakened immune system as the 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 condition that is not in one of these groups. They should offer you the flu vaccine if they think you’re at risk of serious problems if you get flu.
Flu vaccine for people who are pregnant
You should have the flu vaccine if you’re pregnant to help protect you and your baby.
It’s safe to have the flu vaccine at any stage of pregnancy.
Flu vaccine for frontline health and social care workers
If you’re a frontline health and social care worker, your employer should offer you a flu vaccine. They may give the vaccine at your workplace.
You may be able to have the flu vaccine at a GP surgery or a pharmacy if you’re a health or social care worker employed by a:
- registered residential care or nursing home
- registered homecare organisation
You can also have the flu vaccine if you provide health or social care through direct payments or personal health budgets, or both.
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?
The flu vaccine gives the best protection against the 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 the flu vaccine will also stop you from spreading the flu to other people who may 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. Most side effects are mild and only last for a day or so, such as:
- slightly raised temperature
- muscle aches
- sore arm where the needle went in – this is more likely to happen with the vaccine for people aged 65 and over
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.
The flu vaccine cannot give you flu
None of the flu vaccines contains live viruses so they cannot cause flu.
If you are unwell after vaccination, you may have something else. Or you may have caught the flu before your vaccination had worked.
Flu vaccine ingredients
There are several types of injected flu vaccines. None of them contains live viruses so they are called inactivated vaccines.
If you’re eligible for the flu vaccine on the NHS, you’ll be offered one that’s most effective for you, depending on your age:
- adults aged 18 to 64 – there are different types, including low-egg and egg-free ones
- adults aged 65 and over – the most common one contains an extra ingredient to help your immune system make a stronger response to the vaccine
Talk to a GP, practice nurse, or pharmacist for more information about these vaccines.
Information: Read more about why vaccines are safe and important, including how they work and what they contain.