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Influenza (flu) is an infectious virus and can be serious. Symptoms may include a fever, a cough, a headache and tiredness. The virus spreads through the air when people cough or sneeze, or when they touch surfaces where the virus has landed then touch their eyes, nose or mouth. You can catch flu all year round, but it's especially common in winter. It can be serious, even if you're healthy.
Even healthy people can become seriously ill from flu. It can lead to complications that may result in hospitalisation or even death.
The flu vaccine
This year’s flu vaccine gives you the best possible protection against the flu viruses likely to be circulating this season. The vaccine protects people around you who are more at risk of serious flu illness, like babies and young children, older people and people with health conditions.
How does the flu vaccine work?
Flu vaccines help protect against the main types of flu viruses. It works by teaching your body's immune system how to protect itself from flu.
You have to get vaccinated every year because flu viruses are constantly changing. A different vaccine is made every year to ensure the best protection against flu.
How is the flu vaccine given?
The flu vaccine will be given as an injection in the upper arm.
You only need one dose of the flu vaccine each flu season. It takes around 10 days for the vaccine to work, so you should get the vaccine when you are offered it.
The flu vaccine is a safe and effective vaccine.
All medicines (including vaccines) are tested for safety and effectiveness before they're allowed to be used.
Once they're in use, the safety of vaccines continues to be monitored by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
More information on the vaccines, including the ingredients:
What are the side effects of the flu vaccine?
It's normal to experience side effects after the vaccine. It shows the vaccine is teaching your body's immune system how to protect itself from the disease, however, not everyone gets them.
Are there any reasons you should not get the vaccine?
Most adults can have the flu vaccine, but you should avoid it if you’ve had a serious allergic reaction to a flu vaccine in the past, or if you are allergic to any of the vaccine ingredients.
You may be at risk of an allergic reaction to the flu vaccine if you have an egg allergy. This is because some flu vaccines are made using eggs. It’s important that you tell the person giving you your vaccine if you have an egg allergy or if you’ve ever had a serious allergic reaction to a flu vaccine.
Who will be offered the flu vaccine
You'll be offered the flu vaccine this year if you're:
- aged 50 years or over (or will be by 31 March 2024)
- a resident or staff working in a care home for older adults
- a younger adult in long stay nursing and residential care settings
- a health or social care worker
- aged 6 months to 2 years with an eligible health condition
- aged 2 to 5 years not yet at school (children must be aged 2 years or above on 1 September 2023 to be eligible)
- a primary or secondary school pupil
- aged 5 to 49 years with an eligible health condition
- aged 5 to 49 years and are a household contact of someone with a weakened immune system
- an unpaid carer or a young carer
- a nursery, primary or secondary school teacher or a pupil-facing support staff in local authority or independent setting
- part of the prison population, a prison officer, or support staff who delivers direct front-facing detention services
If you're an eligible health or social care worker, you can drop in at any winter vaccine clinic to get vaccinated. You don't need an appointment.
NHS Scotland recommends you get the vaccine as soon as it's offered to you.
If you have a confirmed coronavirus (COVID-19) infection, please don't attend your vaccination appointment. You can rearrange it online.
Eligible health conditions
People with certain health conditions are at greater risk from flu.
Asplenia or dysfunction of the spleen
This also includes conditions such as homozygous sickle cell disease, hereditary spherocytosis, thalassemia major and coeliac syndrome that may lead to splenic dysfunction.
Chronic respiratory disease (from 6 months or older)
- Asthma that requires continuous or repeated use of inhaled or systemic steroids or with previous exacerbations requiring hospital admission.
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) including chronic bronchitis and emphysema; bronchiectasis, cystic fibrosis, interstitial lung fibrosis, pneumoconiosis and bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD).
Children who have previously been admitted to hospital for lower respiratory tract disease.
Chronic heart disease (from 6 months or older)
Congenital heart disease, hypertension with cardiac complications, chronic heart failure, individuals requiring regular medication and/or follow-up for ischaemic heart disease. This includes individuals with atrial fibrillation, peripheral vascular disease or a history of venous thromboembolism.
Chronic kidney disease (from 6 months or older)
Chronic kidney disease at stage 3, 4 or 5, chronic kidney failure, nephrotic syndrome, kidney transplantation.
Chronic liver disease (from 6 months or older)
Cirrhosis, biliary atresia, chronic hepatitis.
Chronic neurological disease (from 6 months or older)
- Stroke, transient ischaemic attack (TIA)
- Conditions in which respiratory function may be compromised, due to neurological disease or neuromuscular (for example polio syndrome sufferers)
- Clinicians should offer the vaccine, based on individual assessment, to clinically vulnerable individuals including those with cerebral palsy, severe or profound learning disabilities, Down’s syndrome, multiple sclerosis, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease and related or similar conditions; or hereditary and degenerative disease of the nervous system or muscles; or severe neurological disability
Diabetes (from 6 months or older)
Type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes requiring insulin or oral hypoglycaemic drugs, diet-controlled diabetes. Addison’s disease, secondary or tertiary adrenal insufficiency requiring steroid replacement.
Immunosuppression (from 6 months or older)
Immunosuppression due to disease or treatment, including patients who:
- are undergoing chemotherapy leading to immunosuppression
- are undergoing radical radiotherapy
- are solid organ transplant recipients
- are bone marrow or stem cell transplant recipients
- have HIV infection at all stages
- have multiple myeloma or genetic disorders affecting the immune system (for example, IRAK-4, NEMO, complement disorder, SCID
Individuals who are receiving immunosuppressive or immunomodulating biological therapy including, but not limited to:
Patients receiving protein kinase inhibitors or PARP inhibitors, and individuals treated with steroid sparing agents such as cyclophosphamide and mycophenolate mofetil.
Morbid obesity (class III obesity)
Adults with a Body Mass Index ≥ 40 kg/m².
At any stage of pregnancy (first, second or third trimesters).
If you feel your condition or medication does not appear on the list, please talk to the clinician that manages your condition. They may be able to refer you to your NHS Board for vaccination if appropriate.
Anyone undergoing chemotherapy treatment or on medication that reduces their immunity is at higher risk and should get immunised.
If you’re under 18 years old and have an eligible health condition (or care for someone who does) you should also get the vaccine.