The child flu vaccine

NHS Scotland recommends all eligible children should get the flu vaccine this year to protect them from influenza (flu).

Flu is a respiratory virus with similar symptoms to coronavirus (COVID-19). It’s likely flu viruses and the virus that causes coronavirus will both be spreading this autumn and winter.

Why should I have my child vaccinated?

Flu is very infectious and can be serious. Flu can lead to complications that may result in hospitalisation or even death.

The flu vaccine will reduce the risk of your child getting or spreading flu to friends and family who are at greater risk from flu and coronavirus, such as grandparents or people with health conditions.

The flu vaccine provides both individual protection for the child and reduces transmission across all age groups.

Getting the flu vaccine will help prevent the flu virus putting extra strain on our NHS services this winter.

Every year in Scotland, children are hospitalised for the treatment of flu or its complications.

In some cases flu can lead to complications. These can include:

  • bronchitis
  • pneumonia
  • painful middle-ear infection
  • vomiting
  • diarrhoea

For children with health conditions getting flu can be even more serious. Health conditions that make children more vulnerable include:

  • asthma
  • bronchitis
  • heart disease
  • kidney disease
  • liver disease
  • neurological disease
  • diabetes
  • immunosuppression
  • asplenia or dysfunction of the spleen

Childhood vaccinations are very important. Please bring your child to their vaccination appointment to protect them and others against flu.

If you think you or your child are showing symptoms of coronavirus call the number on your invitation to rearrange your appointment.

Who's being offered the vaccine?

The flu vaccine's offered to all:

Most children aged 2 to 5 years and primary school pupils have already been offered flu vaccine this year. Some areas in Scotland have also completed their secondary school pupils. Where they have not completed, this activity is now paused. This may be picked up again in the New year once the Omicron risk is reassessed.

How will my child get the vaccine?

If your child misses their vaccination in school, please contact your local NHS Board to find out about local arrangements for getting their vaccine at another time.

Home-schooled children are also eligible for the flu vaccine. Your local health board will contact you directly to offer vaccination.

Children aged 6 months to less than 2 years of age with an eligible health condition will also be offered the flu vaccine. Your local health board or GP practice will invite you by letter to get your child’s flu vaccine.

Primary and secondary school-aged children (including those with eligible health conditions) will be offered the vaccine at school.

If a young person has left secondary school, they are not eligible to get a flu vaccine at school. 16 and 17 year olds with an eligible health condition who have left school can phone 0800 030 8013 to receive an appointment for the flu vaccine.

If you don't know the phone number for your local health board, you can phone 0800 030 8013.

What vaccine is used?

Children aged 2 years and older are given the flu vaccine as a nasal (nose) spray into each nostril. It is quick and painless and is the best available protection against flu.

Your child does not have to sniff or inhale the vaccine and will just feel a tickle in their nose.

The Fluenz Tetra nasal spray suspension Influenza vaccine (live attenuated, nasal) is routinely used in Scotland.

Children aged 6 months to less than 2 years with an eligible health condition will be offered the injectable vaccine.

young girl next to flu jag
Child receiving the nasal (nose) spray vaccine Public Health Scotland

Vaccine side effects

As with all medicines, side effects of the nasal spray flu vaccine are possible, but usually mild.

More about child flu vaccine side effects

Vaccine safety

The flu vaccine is the safest, most effective protection against flu.

All medicines, including vaccines, are tested for safety and efficacy 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).

The nasal spray flu vaccine has been used safely since 2014 and millions of doses of the vaccine have been given to children in the UK

The virus in the vaccine has been weakened so it doesn’t cause flu. It helps your child build up immunity to flu.

Children who don’t get the vaccine are not at risk of catching flu from children who have had the vaccine. The only exception to this would be children who are extremely immunocompromised (have a weakened immune system).

How effective is the vaccine?

The annual vaccine offers protection against the most common types of flu virus that are around each winter. The flu vaccine should start to protect most children about 10 to 14 days after they receive their vaccination.

Over the last few years the flu vaccine has worked very well, providing protection against flu. It has also reduced the chance of spreading flu into the wider community.

There is still a chance that your child could get flu after having the vaccine. If they do get flu after vaccination, it is likely to be milder and not last as long.

Children who can't have the nasal spray vaccine

An alternative injectable form of the vaccine is available for children who cannot have the nasal spray vaccine.

This includes children who:

  • have their immune system suppressed because they're getting treatment for serious conditions, such as cancer, or if they've had a transplant
  • have a serious condition which affects the immune system, such as severe primary immunodeficiency
  • live with or are in close regular contact with very severely immunocompromised people who require isolation
  • are taking regular high doses of oral steroids
  • have had a severe reaction to a previous dose of the vaccine
  • are undergoing salicylate treatment (for example, taking aspirin)

Children with egg allergies

Children with an egg allergy can safely have the nasal spray vaccine, unless they've had a life-threatening reaction to eggs that required intensive care.

An egg-free injectable vaccine which can be used in those from 2 years of age is available. If you're affected, please speak to your immunisation nurse for advice.

Children with severe asthma

The nasal spray vaccine may not be suitable for some children with severe asthma who regularly need oral steroids for asthma control. If you’re affected, please speak to your health professional for advice.

Children on medications

If your child is at school, please make sure you list all of your child’s medications on the consent form. All consent forms will be checked by a health or immunisation team member before the immunisation session to make sure your child can have the nasal spray.

Pork gelatine

The nasal spray vaccine contains a highly processed form of gelatine (pork gelatine) which is used in many essential medicines.

The gelatine helps keep the vaccine viruses stable so the vaccine provides the best protection against flu.

Many faith groups, including Muslim and Jewish communities, have approved the use of vaccines containing gelatine.

However, it’s your choice whether or not you want your child to get the nasal spray vaccine.

The nasal spray vaccine is a much more effective vaccine than the injected flu vaccine and is the preferred option.

If you do not want your child to get the nasal spray vaccine for religious reasons, you may request the injectable alternative by ticking the box on the consent form (your child won't automatically be offered the injectable alternative, you'll need to tick the box every year).

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