Flu vaccinations for people with asthma

Getting the free flu vaccine this year is more important than ever. Don’t miss out!

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Can I get the free flu vaccine if I have asthma?

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.

Why should I get the free flu vaccine if I have asthma?

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

This year it’s more important than ever to get the free flu vaccine if you have asthma, as it’s predicted that there will be much higher levels of flu around during the 2021/22 season, compared to 2020/21.

As a result of social distancing, the wearing of face coverings and lack of international travel, the number of people who got flu during the 2020/21 was extremely low around the world. Because of this, people are likely to be less immune to the flu than usual during the 2021/22 season.

It’s also expected that this will be the first winter where flu will be circulating alongside COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses, so the NHS will be facing severe winter pressures. Getting the flu vaccine reduces the numbers of people needing GP or hospital care. Try to book yours during the autumn, if you can.

And 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!

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.

How do I get my free flu vaccine?

If you are eligible, you should be contacted by your GP. This might be through letter, a phone call, email or text message.

If the NHS doesn’t get in touch, you don’t have to wait to be contacted before booking a vaccine.

If you can’t get the flu vaccine from your GP, try your local pharmacy.

Who is eligible for the free flu vaccine this year?

This year, more people are being offered the free flu vaccine on the NHS. Find out who is eligible to get the free flu vaccine in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales:

If you aren't eligible for a free flu vaccine, you can pay to get one from a pharmacy. You may want to encourage family and friends to have one, so they can protect themselves and others.

Should I get my flu vaccine if I feel ill?

You should not attend your appointment to get your flu vaccine if you have any symptoms of COVID-19. These are:

  • a temperature
  • a new continuous cough
  • lost your sense of smell or taste.

If you feel unwell, try to rebook your appointment for a time when you think you will feel better. This is particularly important if you have a temperature, as this will make the flu jab less effective.

Flu vaccine and your child

The vaccine is usually given to children as a nasal spray, rather than 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’s asthma has become worse in the 3 days before their vaccination, tell the healthcare worker at their appointment. Your child may not be able to have the flu nasal spray, but should be offered an injection, as an alternative. There is no need to delay vaccinating your child.

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

Children aged six months to under two years of age

If your child has asthma and is aged six months to two years of age, they should be offered a flu vaccine as an injection. This is because the nasal spray is not licensed for children under 2 years. If your child hasn’t had a flu vaccine before, they should be offered a second dose of the vaccine, at least four weeks later.

If your little one is aged between six months and two years, and you think your child might have asthma, or they’re being tested for asthma, speak to your GP about whether they should have the flu vaccination.

Read more about spotting the signs of asthma in your child and testing for asthma in children.

Children aged two to under 18 years of age

If your child has asthma and is aged from two to less than 18 years of age, they should be offered the flu vaccine as a nasal spray. Some children may not be able to have the nasal spray, but your GP will make this decision.

If your child is aged between two and under nine years old and hasn’t had a flu vaccine before, they should be offered a second dose of the vaccine. This should be given at least four weeks after the first dose. This might be a nasal spray or as an injection, depending on what is available.

If you think your child might have asthma, or they’re being tested for asthma, speak to your GP about whether they should have the flu vaccination.

Read more about spotting the signs of asthma in your child and testing for asthma in children.

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. As all secondary school pupils in England and Scotland are now being offered the free flu vaccine, children with asthma may be able to get theirs done at school.

However, it can take a while for flu 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 your local surgery instead. If your child is eligible for a free flu vaccine, your GP practice should invite them to get them vaccinated – but don’t be afraid to ask if they haven’t.

How effective is the flu vaccine?

Getting the flu vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and others around you from the flu.

Flu vaccines help protect against the main types of flu viruses, although there's still a chance you might get the flu. However, if you do catch the flu after getting vaccinated, it’s likely to not be as bad and not last as long.

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.

Remember, it can take 10 to 14 days for the flu vaccine to work.

I’m worried about side effects from the flu vaccine

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 flu vaccine that is usually given to children contains small amounts of weakened flu viruses. They do not cause flu in children.

2. I’m worried about feeling under the weather

Flu vaccines are very safe. After getting your vaccine you might find you have:

  • a slightly raised temperature
  • achy muscles
  • a sore arm where the needle went in – this is more likely to happen for people aged 65 and over.

Most side effects from the flu vaccine are mild and should only last for a day or so.

If you find you’re in a bit of pain after getting your flu vaccine, try to move your arm regularly. You might also find it useful to take a painkiller, such as ibuprofen or paracetamol. However, some people, including those who are pregnant, should not take ibuprofen unless a doctor recommends it.

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. The person who vaccinates you will be trained to deal with allergic reactions.

Some flu vaccines are made using eggs. This means that if you have an egg allergy, you may be at risk of an allergic reaction to the flu vaccine injection. Ask your GP or pharmacist for a low-egg or egg-free vaccine.

Getting the flu vaccine if your child doesn’t use pork products

There are small traces of pork gelatine in the nasal spray vaccine. Speak to your child's nurse or doctor about your options if this isn’t suitable, as they may be able to have an injected vaccine instead, which doesn’t contain any pork products.

Who to speak to if you have worries or questions

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 2021

Next review due September 2024

Confused about the flu vaccine? Message our asthma nurses on WhatsApp for advice. 

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