If you’ve been prescribed a preventer inhaler alongside your blue inhaler, or you have been admitted to hospital because of your asthma, you can get the flu vaccine for free.
If you’ve ever had flu, you’ll know it can put you in bed for days. Even if you only have mild asthma, flu can trigger symptoms that could leave you fighting for breath.
75% of people with asthma say flu triggers their asthma symptoms, raising the risk of a life-threatening asthma attack,” Dr Andy, Asthma UK’s in-house GP
Getting the flu vaccine is proven to reduce the numbers of people needing GP or hospital care. This year it’s more important than ever to get the free flu vaccine, both to protect you and because the NHS is facing a busy winter due to COVID-19. Getting the flu vaccine isn’t the only way to reduce your risk of catching the flu. Find out what else you can do to lower your chances of catching a cold or the flu.
The flu vaccine not only protects you. It also helps prevent the spread of flu to friends, family and anyone you come into contact with.
The flu vaccine is likely to be in demand this year, so don’t miss out!
This year, more people are being offered the flu vaccine on the NHS. This list is slightly different in each of the four UK nations, but wherever you are in the UK, you may be offered the flu vaccine if you live with someone who is on the NHS Shielded Patient List.
In England and Northern Ireland, children in the first year of secondary school can also get the free flu vaccine.
If you are eligible, you should be contacted by your GP and/or receive a letter from the NHS Immunisation Management System. If the NHS doesn’t get in touch, you don’t have to wait to be contacted before booking a vaccine.
You may be offered the vaccine if people in your family are on the NHS Shielded Patient List. It’s worth calling your GP surgery to find out if it’s available to you.
If you can’t get the flu vaccine from your GP, try your local pharmacy.
How you get your flu vaccine this year may be different to what usually happens, because of social distancing and extra hygiene measures.
What happens in one GP surgery may be different to what happens in another. Your surgery will try to plan your appointment carefully, so you’re not waiting too long, and will make sure social distancing measures are in place. You should be given information before your appointment explaining what to expect.
Your GP surgery may give you a specific appointment time to get your flu vaccine, or you may have it as part of a routine appointment. You might be asked to come into your GP surgery to have your flu vaccine, but be asked to wait in your car, rather than the waiting room. You might be offered a ‘drive in’ vaccination, similar to the drive-thru COVID-19 testing stations that have been seen across the UK.
If you are on the NHS Shielded Patient List, you may be offered the flu vaccine in your own home.
For children with asthma, getting flu can be very serious, as they're more at risk of developing serious complications.
The vaccine is usually given to children as a nasal spray, not an injection. However, the spray is not usually recommended for children on oral steroids (pills or liquids), or who have been in intensive care because of their asthma. If your child falls into either of these groups, they should be offered an injection instead of a nasal spray.
If your child is wheezy, or has been wheezing in the last 72 hours, they may not be able to have the vaccine. If your child is wheezy on the day they are booked in to get the nasal spray, it is better for them to get the injection instead, rather than waiting until they are less wheezy and getting the nasal spray.
Speak to your GP surgery, school immunisation team or our asthma nurses if you're not sure whether your child should have the vaccine.
How to get the free flu vaccine for your child
If your child is of pre-school age, they can be vaccinated at their GP surgery. Some nurseries and preschools may be offering to give the vaccine themselves, but you will need to check if this is happening where you are.
All primary school children in the UK will be offered a flu vaccination – this will take place at their school. In England and Northern Ireland, school children in their first year of secondary school will also be offered the flu vaccine this year – this should happen at their school.
Sometimes it can take a while for vaccinations to happen in schools. If you’re left waiting and you're worried about your child catching flu, ask your GP if they'll vaccinate them at the surgery instead. Anyone who is in an ‘at-risk’ group, which includes children of any age with a preventer inhaler, can go to their GP for a free flu vaccination.
If they are offered the flu vaccine, it will be as an injection, rather than a spray. This is because the nasal spray is not licensed for children under the age of two.
It’s natural to worry about side effects. Here are some common fears people with asthma have:
1) I’m worried the vaccine will give me the flu
Getting the flu vaccine can’t give you the flu. This is because the vaccine does not contain any live viruses. The nasal spray vaccine given to children can’t cause flu either, because the viruses in it are made weaker.
2) I’m worried about feeling under the weather
After getting the flu vaccine, you might get a sore arm, a slight temperature, or aching muscles for a day or so. . See the NHS’s advice on how to treat mild side effects.
3) I’m worried about getting an allergic reaction
It's very rare to have a serious allergic reaction to a flu vaccination. If this does happen, it usually happens within a few minutes of having it done.
Let your GP know if you’re allergic to eggs. Some flu vaccines are made using eggs, but there are flu vaccines that don’t contain egg. If you have a severe egg allergy, your GP may refer you to a specialist to have the vaccine in hospital.
Flu viruses are changing all the time, so the vaccine that is offered changes every year. That’s why it’s recommended that you get vaccinated every autumn.
The flu vaccine will help prevent you getting the flu, but does not stop all flu viruses. This means there is a small chance you may get the flu if you have been vaccinated. However, if you do get the flu after being vaccinated, it’s likely to be milder and last a shorter amount of time than if you hadn’t been vaccinated.
The nasal spray for children contains pork gelatine and tiny quantities of egg. The gelatine helps to keep the vaccine stable.
If you don’t want your child to get a flu vaccination that contains pork gelatine, you may be able to request a flu injection, which doesn’t contain pork gelatine. Speak to your GP surgery about this.
Your GP, asthma nurse or pharmacist will have all the latest information about flu vaccination, or you can speak to an asthma expert nurse on the Asthma UK helpline (0300 222 5800, Monday to Friday 9am-5pm) or WhatsApp on 07378 606728.
See more advice from Asthma UK about protecting yourself from colds and flu this winter.
Last updated September 2020
Next review due September 2023