Influenza (flu) is an infectious respiratory virus. Symptoms may include a fever, a cough, a headache, and tiredness.
NHS Scotland recommends all eligible children should get the flu vaccine this year to help protect them from influenza (flu).
Who’s being offered the vaccine?
The flu vaccine is offered to all:
children aged 6 months to 2 years with an eligible health condition
children aged 2 to 5 years and not yet at school (children must be aged 2 years or above on 1 September 2023 to be eligible)
primary and secondary school children
Why should I have my child vaccinated?
Flu can be serious. Even healthy children can become seriously ill from flu. In some cases, flu can lead to complications. These can include bronchitis, pneumonia, painful middle-ear infection, vomiting, diarrhoea. In the worst cases, flu can lead to disability and even death.
Flu can be even more serious for children with health conditions such as:
heart, kidney, liver or neurological disease
a weakened immune system
a spleen that does not work fully
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. For example, grandparents or people with health conditions. It’ll also help prevent your child getting sick with flu and needing time off school or nursery.
How will my child be offered the vaccine?
Children aged 6 months to 2 years with an eligible health condition
Parents or carers of children aged 6 months to 2 years who are eligible will receive a letter from NHS Scotland with details of an appointment or how to book one for their child.
Children aged 2 to 5 years (pre-school)
Parents or carers of children aged 2 to 5 years (who aren’t at school yet) will receive a letter from NHS Scotland with details of an appointment or how to book one for their child.
Primary and secondary school children
All primary and secondary school pupils will be offered the vaccine in school. Children will be sent home with a letter, leaflet and consent form. You should complete the consent form and send it back to school with your child even if you do not want your child vaccinated.
Your primary school child can only be given the vaccine if you’ve completed, signed and returned the consent form.
If you have a young person in secondary school, talk to them about getting the flu vaccine. It’s a decision you should make together. It’s not always necessary for secondary school pupils to get consent from their parent or carer to receive their flu vaccine. They may be vaccinated after giving their own consent following discussion with the vaccinator, even if their consent form is not returned.
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 book an appointment for the flu vaccine or by visiting the online booking portal.
Home educated children
Home-educated children are also eligible for the flu vaccine. To arrange this, please contact your local NHS immunisation team.
If your child was given a flu vaccination appointment and has missed it, don’t worry – it’s not too late to get them vaccinated this winter. Please contact your local NHS immunisation team to book an appointment. Contact details can also be found on your child’s invitation letter.
How is the vaccine given?
In Scotland, children aged 2 to 17 will usually be given the nasal spray vaccine. It’s quick and painless and there’s no need to sniff or inhale the vaccine. It’ll just feel like a tickle in their nose.
Children aged 2 to 17 years who cannot receive the nasal spray vaccine will receive the injectable vaccine.
Children aged 6 months to 2 years will be given the injectable vaccine.
Most children will only need one dose of the flu vaccine. Only a small number of children will need a second dose (four weeks after the first) to make sure their immunity has built up fully.
A second dose is only needed for children under 9 years old who are getting the flu vaccine for the first time and have a health condition that puts them at higher risk of flu.
If your child is at school and needs a second dose, please contact your local NHS Board to arrange this. Find the number on your child’s appointment letter.
What if my child’s ill on the day?
Your child should not have the vaccine if they’re very unwell (for example, with a fever, diarrhoea or vomiting).
If your child’s asthma is worse than usual in the three days before their vaccination, meaning they are wheezing more or have had to use their inhaler more than they normally do, contact your local immunisation team. There is no need to delay their vaccination as they may be able to receive the injectable form of the vaccine as an alternative.
Please contact your local NHS Board to find out about local arrangements for getting their vaccine at another time.
Vaccine side effects
As with all medicines, side effects of the nasal spray flu vaccine are possible, but usually mild.
Close contact with family members who have a severely weakened immune system
Children who have had the nasal spray flu vaccine should avoid close contact with family members who have a severely weakened immune system for up to two weeks following immunisation.
Does the vaccine work?
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.
Is the flu vaccine safe?
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).
The flu vaccine is a safe and effective vaccine.
Can the flu vaccine give my child flu?
No. the virus in the vaccine has been weakened so it doesn’t cause flu. It helps build up immunity to flu.
It is not necessary to avoid attending school during the period when the vaccine is being given or in the following weeks. The only exception to this would be children who are extremely immunocompromised (have a weakened immune system).
Will my child be protected for life when they’ve had this vaccine?
No, your child will need to get the flu vaccine every year. Flu viruses are constantly changing.
A different vaccine has to be made every year to ensure the best protection against flu. This is why the flu vaccine is offered every year to help protect your child during winter.
Children who can’t have the nasal spray flu vaccine
A very small number of children will not be able to get the nasal spray flu vaccine because of medical reasons. This includes children who:
have a weakened immune system because they are getting treatment for serious conditions, such as cancer, or if they have had a transplant
have a serious condition that affects the immune system, such as severe primary immunodeficiency
live with someone who needs isolation because they are severely immunosuppressed, meaning they have a very weak immune system
are taking regular high doses of oral steroids for asthma control
have had a severe reaction to a previous dose of the vaccine
are undergoing salicylate treatment (for example, taking aspirin)
Additional information for children with allergies and health conditions
Children on medications
If you’re attending an appointment with your child, please to bring a complete list of any medication your child is taking.
If your child is at school, please make sure you list all your child’s medications on the consent form. All consent forms will be checked to make sure your child can have the nasal spray.
Children with severe asthma
The nasal spray flu vaccine may not be suitable for some children with severe asthma who regularly need oral steroids for asthma control. An alternative injectable form of the vaccine is available for those who cannot have the nasal spray flu vaccine, please speak to your immunisation nurse for advice
Children egg allergies
Children with an egg allergy can safely have the nasal spray flu 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. An alternative injectable form of the vaccine is available for those who cannot have the nasal spray flu vaccine, please speak to your immunisation nurse for advice.
The nasal spray flu vaccine contains a highly processed form of gelatine (pork gelatine), which is used in many essential medicines. The gelatine helps to keep the vaccine viruses stable so that the vaccine provides the best protection against flu.
Many faith groups, including Muslim and Jewish communities, have approved the use of vaccines containing gelatine.
The nasal spray flu vaccine is a more effective vaccine than the injected flu vaccine and is the preferred option. If you do not accept the use of pork gelatine in medical products, an alternative injectable vaccine is available. You may request that your child is given the injectable vaccine. Please discuss this with your immunisation nurse or tick the appropriate box on your child’s consent form.