Overview

Flu is serious. With coronavirus (COVID-19) around it's more important than ever to get the flu vaccine this autumn to protect yourself, others and the NHS.

Self-help guide

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Who will be offered the flu vaccine

Vaccination for the different groups will begin as soon as the necessary supply of vaccine becomes available. Those most at risk will be prioritised.

If you receive a letter inviting you to get the flu vaccine, please follow the instructions.

First phase from October

The following groups are eligible for the flu vaccine from October:

  • All primary school children
  • Children aged 2 to 5 (children must be aged 2 years or above on 1 September 2020 and not yet in school)
  • Anyone aged 65 and over (by 31 March 2021)
  • Anyone with an eligible health condition
  • Pregnant women
  • Healthcare workers
  • Unpaid and young carers
  • Those living in the same home as people previously shielding from coronavirus
  • Social care workers who provide direct personal care
Second phase from December

Those aged 55 to 64 (by 31 March 2021) who would not usually be eligible will also be offered the flu vaccine from December.

If you're 16 years old or over and not eligible for the free vaccination you can get the vaccine in many community pharmacies for a fee.

Changes to the flu vaccination this year

This year you may notice you're invited to a new location to receive your flu vaccine or the health professional giving your immunisation has changed. Depending on where you live, you may be able to get your vaccine at:

  • healthcare settings such as GP practices, hospitals or community pharmacies
  • community venues such as town halls, village halls, sports halls and secondary schools
  • drive-through or walk-through clinics

Flu symptoms

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

  • fever (temperature above 37.8°C)
  • aches
  • dry, chesty cough
  • tiredness or exhaustion
  • headache

More about the symptoms of flu or visit our the Self-help guide about Flu-like illness.

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 flu 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:

The adjuvanted Trivalent Inactivated Vaccine (aTIV) contains a substance, known as an adjuvant, to help to stimulate the immune system and create a better response.

This vaccine's been widely used in many other countries and has been shown to offer better and longer lasting protection in older people than flu vaccines without an adjuvant

It's being offered this year to people aged 65 or over.

If you have an egg allergy

Some of the vaccines for this year are prepared in hens’ eggs.

However one ‘egg-free’ brand which can be used in people from 9 years old is available.

Arrangements are also in place for younger children with an egg allergy to receive the flu vaccine.

If you're affected, please speak to your health professional for advice.

Vaccine is best protection against flu

Over the last 10 years, the flu vaccine's generally been a good match for the circulating strains of flu.

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.

Vaccine safety

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).

People aged 65 or over, those with a health condition and carers

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

  • are aged 65 or over (by 31 March 2021)
  • have an eligible health condition
  • live in the same home as people previously shielding from coronavirus
  • are an unpaid or young carer

With coronavirus around it's more important than ever to get the flu vaccine.

Getting the vaccine is the safest and most effective way to help protect yourself against flu and it's also one of the most important reasons for leaving your home.

If you are aged 65 or over, or have an eligible health condition, the risk of getting seriously ill with the flu virus is greater than the risk of going to get your vaccine.

During vaccination, strict infection prevention and control measures will be in place.

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 diabetes, 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 feel healthy or that your health condition is mild or well-managed.

Who's eligible for the flu vaccine

People with certain health conditions are at greater risk from flu. Conditions and diseases which can make flu more dangerous include:

Chronic respiratory disease (aged six months or older):

  • Asthma that requires continuous or repeated use of inhaled or systemic steroids or with previous exacerbations requiring hospital admission.
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) including chronic bronchitis and emphysema; bronchiectasis, cystic fibrosis, interstitial lung fibrosis, pneumoconiosis and bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD)
  • Children who have previously been admitted to hospital for lower respiratory tract disease.

Chronic heart disease (aged six months or older):

  • Congenital heart disease, hypertension with cardiac complications, chronic heart failure, individuals requiring regular medication and/or follow-up for ischaemic heart disease.

Chronic kidney disease (aged six months or older):

  • Chronic kidney disease at stage 3, 4 or 5, chronic kidney failure, nephritic syndrome, kidney transplantation.

Chronic liver disease (aged six months or older):

  • Cirrhosis, biliary atresia, chronic hepatitis from any cause such as Hepatitis B and C infections and other non-infective causes

Chronic neurological disease (aged six months or older):

  • Stroke, transient ischaemic attack (TIA).
  • Conditions in which respiratory function may be compromised, due to neurological disease (e.g. polio syndrome sufferers).
  • Clinicians should offer immunisation, based on individual assessment, to clinically vulnerable individuals including those with cerebral palsy, learning disabilities, multiple sclerosis and related or similar conditions; or hereditary and degenerative disease of the nervous system or muscles; or severe neurological or severe learning disability.

Diabetes (aged six months or older):

  • Type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes requiring insulin or oral hypoglycaemic drugs, diet controlled diabetes.

Immunosuppression (aged six months or older):

  • Immunosuppression due to disease or treatment, including patients undergoing chemotherapy leading to immunosuppression, bone marrow transplant. HIV infection at all stages, multiple myeloma or genetic disorders affecting the immune system (eg IRAK-4, NEMO, complement disorder). Individuals treated with or likely to be treated with systemic steroids for more than a month at a dose equivalent to prednisolone at 20mg or more per day (any age) or for children under 20kg a dose of 1mg or more per kg per day.

Asplenia or dysfunction of the spleen

  • This also includes conditions such as homozygous sickle cell disease and coeliac syndrome that may lead to splenic dysfunction.

Morbid obesity (class III obesity)

  • Adults with a Body Mass Index ≥ 40 kg/m²

Anyone undergoing chemotherapy treatment or on medication that reduces their immunity is at higher risk and 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.

Carers

Unpaid carers and young carers are also eligible for the free flu vaccine.

Find out how to get the flu vaccine in your health board area.

People aged 55 to 64

People aged 55 to 64 will not be vaccinated until December, and no appointments will be offered for this age group until then.

This is to ensure that those who are most at risk are vaccinated first.

If you are 55 to 64 and you are in one of the other groups which is eligible for the flu vaccine, for example you have a health condition which puts you at risk from the flu, you will be invited earlier.

If you're living with someone previously shielding

If you live in the same home as someone who was previously advised to shield to protect them from coronavirus (COVID-19), you can now get the free flu vaccine.

This aims to provide additional indirect protection to individuals who were shielding.

Pregnant women

The Royal College of Midwives along with Scotland’s Chief Medical and Chief Nursing Officers recommend that all pregnant women should have the free flu vaccine every time you are pregnant as the flu viruses circulating change each year.

Why get the vaccine

Pregnant women are at a greater risk of serious flu-related complications such as early labour, low birth weight and stillbirth so need extra protection.

Every year in Scotland, a number of pregnant women will get influenza (flu virus), some will require hospital treatment or be admitted to intensive care.

Reducing your flu risk

Pregnant women with a health condition such as diabetes or asthma are particularly vulnerable.

The flu vaccine:

  • can help protect you and your developing baby against this year’s flu virus and for at least three months after birth
  • 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

Stay protected

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.

It only takes a few minutes to get immunised. The flu vaccine takes around 10 days to work, so the sooner you get it the better.

You can get the flu vaccine at any stage of pregnancy and at the same time as the whooping cough vaccine.

Keep healthy and flu free

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

During vaccination, strict infection prevention and control measures will be in place.

Healthcare workers

Scotland’s Chief Medical and Chief Nursing Officers agree – healthcare workers should have the flu vaccine. If you don't get the vaccine you are putting yourself and people you care for at risk.

Healthcare workers should get the vaccine

Healthcare workers, directly delivering care, 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.

It reduces the risk of spreading flu to your family, patients and colleagues who could be at risk of catching the virus.

Healthcare workers who have flu can spread flu 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 people without health conditions. 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 healthcare, 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 the community, visiting patients at home

More information for healthcare workers

Visit the NHS Education for Scotland website to find out why getting immunised against flu's important.

Free flu vaccine for social care workers

This year, the Scottish Government is offering the free flu vaccine to social care workers of all ages employed by local authorities, private providers and third sector organisations who deliver direct personal care in the following settings:

  • care and secure care for children
  • care for persons at home (including housing support and care at home services)
  • homes for adults

Protecting those most at risk

The aim is to protect those most at risk from concurrent infection of COVID-19 and flu.

If social care staff catch flu, they can spread it to people receiving care and their colleagues, even if they have very mild symptoms or no symptoms at all.

Social care workers often come into contact with those most vulnerable to the seasonal flu.

Vaccinating them will:

  • help to protect social care workers from flu
  • indirectly protect the people they care for.

Avoiding the spread of flu

A high rate of social care worker vaccinations will help protect individual staff members and reduce the risks of passing on flu infections to the most vulnerable in social care premises.

In addition, it will help to maintain the workforce and minimise disruption to services providing patient or client care by reducing staff sickness absence.

The flu vaccine provides the best protection available against the virus.

The vaccine:

  • is given in the autumn ideally before flu starts circulating.
  • does not contains live viruses, so can’t give you flu.
  • has to be given every year because the virus changes constantly and your immunity reduces over time.

Remember, the flu virus is different from coronavirus (COVID-19).

The best way for social care staff to avoid flu is to get a flu vaccine as soon as possible.

Each NHS Board will work with social care organisations providing direct hands-on care to arrange flu vaccination for social care staff.

After the vaccine

As with all medicines, side effects of the flu vaccine are possible, but usually mild and may include:

  • injection site tenderness, swelling and/or redness
  • headache
  • muscle ache
  • fever (temperature above 37.8°C).

More information on the possible side effects of the flu vaccine is available in the Patient Information Leaflets (PILs):

Where can I report suspected side effects?

You can report suspected side effects of vaccines and medicines through the Yellow Card Scheme.

This can be done by:

  • visiting the Yellow Card Scheme website
  • phoning the free Yellow Card hotline on 0800 731 6789 (available Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm)

Further information

If you’re unsure about anything, or have any questions about the flu vaccine, speak to a health professional, such as your immunisation or practice nurse or GP.

Immunisation leaflets

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

The leaflets are produced in Easy Read English and other languages – including Polish, Mandarin (Simplified Chinese) and Arabic.

65 years or over flu leaflet

Living with a health condition flu leaflet

Pregnant? flu leaflet

Work in health care? flu leaflet

Work in social care? flu leaflet

Flu vaccine leaflet (BSL)

Flu vaccine leaflet (Audio)

Vaccine Safety Net Member

Public Health Scotland 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