The flu vaccine is a safe and effective vaccine. It’s offered every year on the NHS to help protect people at risk of getting seriously ill from flu. The best time to have the flu vaccine is in the autumn or early winter before flu starts spreading. But you can get the vaccine later.
Flu vaccine and coronavirus (COVID-19)
Flu vaccination is important because:
- more people are likely to get flu this winter as fewer people will have built up natural immunity to it during the COVID-19 pandemic
- if you get flu and COVID-19 at the same time, research shows you’re more likely to be seriously ill
- getting vaccinated against flu and COVID-19 will provide protection for you and those around you for both these serious illnesses
If you’ve had COVID-19, it’s safe to have the flu vaccine. It will still be effective at helping to prevent flu.
COVID-19 booster vaccine
Some people may be eligible for both the flu and the COVID-19 booster vaccines. If you are offered both vaccines, it’s safe to have them at the same time.
Find out more about the COVID-19 booster vaccine and who can get it
How to book your appointment
If you’re eligible for a free flu vaccine, you can book an appointment at your GP surgery or a pharmacy that offers it on the NHS.
You may also get an invitation to get the vaccine, but you do not have to wait for this before booking an appointment.
Everyone who is eligible for the free flu vaccine will be able to get it.
GP surgeries and pharmacies get the flu vaccine in batches. If you cannot get an appointment straight away, ask if you can book an appointment for when more vaccines are available.
If you have an appointment for a COVID-19 booster vaccine at a GP surgery or pharmacy, you may also be offered a flu vaccine at the same time.
Do not delay booking your flu vaccine appointment so that you can get both vaccines together. Only some people will be offered both vaccines at the same time.
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 neurone 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.
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.
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:
- 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.
Flu vaccine ingredients
There are several types of injected flu vaccine. None of them contain live viruses so they cannot give you flu.
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
Children aged between 6 months and 2 years who have a long-term health condition are offered an approved injected flu vaccine instead of the nasal spray vaccine.
Find out about the children’s nasal spray flu vaccine
Talk to a GP, practice nurse or pharmacist for more information about these vaccines.
Read more about why vaccines are 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