Flu jab in brief
- 90 per cent of people with asthma say colds and flu trigger their asthma symptoms.
- The flu jab is recommended for some people with asthma, but not everyone with asthma needs it.
- If you have the flu jab you’re less likely to get flu, and if you do get it, it’s likely to be milder.
- It's designed to help protect you against the specific flu viruses predicted to be in the UK, although it doesn't protect you from all flu viruses.
- Ideally you should have it between September and early November. However, it's always worth getting vaccinated after this time – even if there have already been flu outbreaks.
Who needs to have the flu vaccine?
Anyone can get flu, but it can be more serious for certain people, including:
- people aged 65 or older
- people who have a long-term health condition
- people whose immune systems are not strong
- pregnant women
Why should some people with asthma have the flu vaccine?
Asthma causes your airways to become swollen and sensitive to your triggers. Getting the flu causes more swelling and make your airways even more sensitive. This can make your asthma symptoms worse and increase your risk of an asthma attack.
The annual flu vaccine creates antibodies in your body that protect you from the type of flu around that year. So if you do come into contact with the virus your body will be prepared to fight it off.
No vaccine is totally effective, but people who have had the flu jab are less likely to get flu. And if you do get flu when you’ve had the jab, it will probably be milder than if you hadn’t been vaccinated, so less of a risk for your asthma.
The flu vaccine doesn’t protect you against other viral infections. You can still get coughs and colds.
If your GP says you don’t need a flu vaccine, using your asthma medicines as prescribed is the best way to make sure your airways are less inflamed and sensitive, so that if you do get flu, you’ll be less likely to have worse asthma symptoms or an asthma attack.
Shouldn’t everyone with asthma have the flu vaccine?
There aren’t any firm guidelines as to whether an individual with asthma should have the flu vaccine or not. Your GP or asthma nurse will consider your medical history and current circumstances and advise you whether or not you, or your child, need the vaccine.
If you or child have asthma you’re more likely to be offered the flu vaccine if:
- you’re always or repeatedly on steroid preventer inhalers or steroid tablets
- you’ve had to go into hospital in the last 12 months because of an asthma attack
- you have other conditions or risk factors that mean you should have one
"Having reviewed the latest research, we believe that the government’s public health advice is right, and that only some people with asthma need the vaccine to reduce the potentially increased risk of an asthma attack if they get flu," says Dr. Samantha Walker, our executive director – research.
If you don’t know whether or not you, or your child, need a flu jab, make an appointment with your GP or asthma nurse, ideally in August or September, to discuss it.
When should you have the flu vaccine?
You can catch flu all year round, but it is especially common in winter. That’s why the jab is usually given in the autumn.
The flu vaccine is designed to protect people against the specific flu viruses that are expected to be around in the UK that coming winter. That’s why, if you need it, it’s important to get the vaccine every year. Every year there’s a new strain of flu. You can get up to date advice on the new strains for this year from NHS choices.
Ask your doctor when your surgery will have flu vaccinations available, and make an appointment as soon as possible, before the virus begins to circulate. Don't worry if you've missed it, you can have the vaccine later in winter if there are stocks left.
If, on the day of your appointment, you have a high temperature, your flu vaccine may need to be postponed. Make sure you tell your GP or asthma nurse if you’re feeling unwell.
Where can you get the flu jab?
You can get the flu jab at:
- Your GP surgery
- Some local pharmacies offer a flu vaccination service
If you're pregnant your midwifery service may offer the vaccine.
Flu vaccines for children
If your doctor says your child needs a flu vaccine, there are two types available for children: an injected flu vaccine and a nasal flu vaccine which is given as a single dose of nasal spray squirted up each nostril. Your GP will tell you which type is suitable for your child:
Possible side effects of the flu vaccine
Like all medicines and vaccinations, there are some potential side effects when you or your child have a flu vaccination. The good news is that side effects are usually mild and temporary - and not everyone will experience them. It takes between 10 and 14 days for your immune system to respond to the vaccine fully. Find out more about possible side effects here.
Flu vaccine and egg allergy
The flu vaccine injection (but not the nasal flu vaccine for children) contains small amounts of egg protein – so if you or your child is allergic to hens’ eggs you can have an alternative such as an egg-free inactivated flu vaccine. Speak to your GP if you have a known allergy to hens’ eggs before you get the injected flu vaccine.
Flu vaccine and pork gelatine
Only the nasal flu vaccine used for children (but not the injected flu vaccine) contains gelatine that comes from pork.
If your child is known to have gelatine allergies, speak to your GP or asthma nurse before they get the nasal spray vaccine.
If you do not want your child to have the nasal flu vaccine because of your religious beliefs, or because your child is vegetarian, your child can be given the flu vaccine injection instead. Many faith group leaders have said that the use of gelatine in vaccines is acceptable and doesn’t break any religious rules because it has been highly processed.
You can speak to your GP to discuss other options that may be available for your child - but the decision whether or not to give your child the nasal flu vaccine is up to you.
Know what to do if your asthma symptoms do get worse
“Even if you take your medicines as prescribed, and have the flu vaccine if it is recommended for you, there’s still a chance you can get the flu and your asthma symptoms could get worse,” says Sonia Munde, Asthma UK's Head of Helpline. “Make sure you know what to do if your symptoms do get worse, by using the step-by-step instructions in your written asthma action plan.”
Last updated January 2018
Next review due April 2019