Overview

The flu vaccine's the best available protection against the flu virus. It’s very safe, only takes a few minutes and will last around a year.

Flu's more than a bad cold and can make people very unwell. It's highly infectious with symptoms that come on quickly and can hit anyone. In the most serious cases, flu can bring on pneumonia, or other serious infections which can, in extreme cases, result in death.

The vaccine's offered each winter flu season, which lasts from October to March.

Who should get the flu vaccine?

Any strain of flu can be dangerous for people who are vulnerable to it. That's why the following people are urged to get the free flu vaccine as soon as it's available every winter to help protect against flu:

  • Anyone with a health condition
  • People aged 65 years or over
  • Pregnant women
  • People that work in healthcare

For information on the child flu vaccine, please visit the child flu page

What if I'm not in one of the eligible groups?

If you're 16 years old, or over, and not in one of the eligible groups for the free flu immunisation, you can get the vaccine in many high street pharmacies for a small fee.

What to do if I have flu?

Flu symptoms come on very quickly and can include symptoms such as:

  • fever (temperature above 38°C)
  • aches
  • tiredness or exhaustion
  • headache

More about the symptoms of flu

The vaccine

The vaccine takes around 10 days to work and should help protect you from flu for around a year. You have to get immunised every year because the viruses change constantly and your immunity reduces over time.

The flu vaccine can’t give you flu, but it can stop you catching it.

Which vaccines are used?

The following vaccines are routinely used in Scotland:

I have an egg allergy, can I have the vaccine?

There's no egg-free vaccine available this year as the manufacturers have stopped producing it, however, arrangements are in place for people with an egg allergy so they can receive the flu vaccine.

If you're affected, please speak to your GP practice for advice.

Is the vaccine effective?

Over the last 10 years, the flu vaccine's generally been a good match for the circulating strains of flu so you can be confident getting vaccinated is the best way to help protect yourself against flu. Even when it's not as well matched, if you catch flu and you've had the vaccine, symptoms may be less severe, and you may be less likely to develop complications.

How do we know the vaccine's safe?

All medicines (including vaccines) are tested for safety and effectiveness by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). The vaccine meets the high safety standards required for it to be used in the UK and other European countries. The vaccine has been given to millions of people worldwide.

Once they're in use, the safety of vaccines continues to be monitored by the MHRA.

Where and when to get it

The flu vaccine's available from October to March. The earlier you get it, the less likely you'll get flu.

If I'm over 65 years of age, where can I get the flu vaccine?

If you're over 65 years of age, you'll receive a letter through the post towards the end of September prompting you to contact your GP practice to make an appointment.

It only takes a few minutes to get immunised and could help to keep you well over the winter.

If I've a health condition, where can I get the flu vaccine?

If you have a health condition, contact your GP practice to make an appointment.

It only takes a few minutes to get immunised and could help to keep you well over the winter.

If I'm pregnant, where can I get the flu vaccine?

If you're pregnant, contact your GP practice to make an appointment.

It only takes a few minutes to get immunised and could help to keep you and your baby in the best possible health over the winter.

The flu vaccine's available from October to March. You can get it at any stage during your pregnancy. The earlier you get it, the less likely it is that you will get flu. You can also speak to your midwife for more information.

If I'm a healthcare worker, where can I get the flu vaccine?

If you're a healthcare worker, contact your line manager or occupational health department for details about getting your vaccine.

Anyone with a health condition, or those over 65

Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer recommends you have the free flu vaccine every year if you:

  • have a health condition (no matter what age you are and how fit and healthy you feel)
  • are aged 65 or over

It’s the safest and most effective way to help protect yourself against flu.

Why get the vaccine

Every year in Scotland, around two-thirds of people who get severe flu and need intensive care treatment have a health condition such as chronic lung or heart disease.

Adults with a health condition are more at risk of flu-related complications and need extra protection. Even if you’re young, fit and healthy, and your condition's normally under control.

If you’re aged 65 or over you should also get extra protection.

Who should have the flu vaccine?

Anyone with a health condition is at greater risk from flu. Conditions and diseases which can make flu more dangerous include:

  • asthma
  • multiple sclerosis
  • bronchitis
  • liver problems such as cirrhosis/hepatitis
  • emphysema
  • diabetes
  • cystic fibrosis
  • asplenia or dysfunction of the spleen
  • chronic heart disease
  • being very overweight
  • chronic kidney failure
  • HIV infection

If you've any of these conditions, speak to your GP or practice nurse to find out if you should have the flu vaccine.

Anyone undergoing chemotherapy treatment or anyone on medication that reduces their immunity should get immunised.

If you’re under 18 years and have a health condition (or care for someone who does) you should also get the vaccine. You may be eligible to have the vaccine as a nasal (nose) spray. For more information visit the child flu page.

If you provide care for someone, you may also be eligible for the free flu vaccine. Speak to your GP or practice nurse for more information.

Pregnant women

The Royal College of Midwives and Scotland’s Chief Medical and Chief Nursing Officers recommend that all pregnant women should have the flu vaccine, even if you’ve had it before or this isn’t your first baby.

Why get the vaccine

Pregnant women are more at risk of flu-related complications and need extra protection. Every year in Scotland, a number of pregnant women will get flu, some of whom will require hospitalisation and intensive care treatment.

The flu vaccine:

  • can help protect you and your developing baby against this year’s flu virus
  • contains no live viruses, so it can't give you flu
  • is safe for your baby and for you at any stage of your pregnancy

Even if you’ve had a flu vaccine in the past, you need to get protected again this year because the virus changes constantly and your immunity reduces over time.

If you’ve been pregnant before, remember that a healthy flu-free pregnancy last time is no guarantee that you won’t catch flu this time. To make sure you get the maximum protection, you need to get the vaccine again.

Healthcare workers

Scotland’s Chief Medical and Chief Nursing Officers agree – healthcare workers should have the flu vaccine. Don’t risk it for yourself, or the people you're caring for.

Why should healthcare workers get the vaccine?

Healthcare workers are more likely to be exposed to the flu virus. Every year in Scotland, a number of healthcare workers get flu, particularly where there are flu outbreaks in care homes and hospitals.

Having the vaccine:

  • is the best way to help protect yourself against flu this year
  • reduces the risk of spreading flu to your family, patients and colleagues who could be at risk of catching the virus

Infected healthcare workers can spread their infection to their patients and family even if they've very mild symptoms or have no symptoms at all.

Patients with health conditions are 18 times more likely to die from flu than healthy people. In fact, people with a compromised immune system are over 50 times more likely than a healthy person to die of flu. And people with liver problems are 80 times more likely to die.

Even for healthy people, flu can be serious, making them feel extremely unwell and unable to carry on with everyday activities.

Who should have the flu vaccine?

It’s recommended that anyone who works in health and social care, and is directly involved in patient care, should have the flu vaccine. This includes, but isn't limited to:

  • anyone who works in a GP practice, pharmacy, dental surgery or hospital
  • workers in paediatric wards, cancer centres and intensive care
  • those working in social care or care homes

Is there more information available for healthcare workers?

Visit the NHS Education for Scotland website to watch a short film and find out why getting immunised against flu's important.

Further information

If you’re unsure about anything, or have any questions about the flu vaccine, phone:

Immunisation leaflets

NHS Health Scotland has produced leaflets explaining the flu vaccination in Scotland, why it's offered and when it's given.

These leaflets are also available in Easy Read English and other languages - including Polish, Simplified Chinese and Urdu.

Health condition? Flu. I'm ready for you leaflet

Pregnant? Flu. I'm ready for you leaflet

Work in healthcare? Flu. I'm ready for you leaflet

Audio leaflets

Vaccine Safety Net Member

NHS inform is a proud member of the Vaccine Safety Net.

The Vaccine Safety Net is a global network of websites, evaluated by the World Health Organization, that provides reliable information on vaccine safety.

More about the Vaccine Safety Net