Flu vaccine

Flu (influenza) is a common infectious respiratory virus. Symptoms may include a fever, a cough, a headache and tiredness. The virus spreads through the air when people cough or sneeze, or when they touch surfaces where the virus has landed then touch their eyes, nose or mouth. You can catch flu all year round, but it's especially common in winter. It can be serious, even if you're healthy.

The flu vaccine is the safest and most effective way to help protect against flu. It'll also help reduce the risk of spreading flu to others.

Self-help guide

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Who will be offered the flu vaccine

You'll be offered the flu vaccine this year if you're:

  • aged 50 years or over (or will be by 31 March 2023)
  • a resident or staff working in a care home for older adults
  • a younger adult in long stay nursing and residential care settings
  • a health or social care worker
  • aged 6 months to 2 years with an eligible health condition
  • aged 2 to 5 years not yet at school (children must be aged 2 years or above on 1 September 2022 to be eligible)
  • a primary or secondary school pupil
  • aged 5 to 49 years with an eligible health condition
  • aged 5 to 49 years and are a household contact of someone with a weakened immune system
  • an unpaid carer or a young carer
  • pregnant
  • nursery, primary or secondary school teacher or a pupil-facing support staff in local authority or independent setting
  • part of the prison population, a prison officer, or support staff who delivers direct front-facing detention services

If you're an eligible health or social care worker, you can drop in at any winter vaccine clinic to get vaccinated. You don't need an appointment.

NHS Scotland recommends you get the vaccine as soon as it's offered to you.

If you have a confirmed coronavirus (COVID-19) infection, please don't attend your vaccination appointment. You can rearrange it online.

Why should I get vaccinated?

The flu vaccine is a safe and effective vaccine. It gives the best protection against flu. It’s offered every year for free by the NHS to help protect people at risk of flu and its complications.

The vaccine helps protect against the main types of flu viruses. But there’s still a chance you might get flu after having the vaccine. If you do get flu after vaccination, it’s likely to be milder and not last as long.

Having the flu vaccine can also stop you spreading flu to other people who may be more at risk of complications and serious illness if they catch flu.

Flu can be serious and life-threatening. Getting vaccinated is the safest and most effective way to protect yourself.

The vaccine takes around 10 days to work and should help protect you during this year’s flu season. 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 for people aged 18 years and over:

This year, the Adjuvanted Quadrivalent Influenza Vaccine (aQIV) is being offered to people aged 65 or over. This vaccine contains a substance, known as an adjuvant, to help to stimulate the immune system and create a better response.

This vaccine has 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.

Only one dose of the flu vaccine is needed each winter.

If you have an egg allergy

Some flu vaccines are made using eggs.

Tell the person giving you your vaccine if you have an egg allergy or if you’ve ever had a serious allergic reaction to a flu vaccine.

If you're affected, please speak to your health professional for advice. An egg-free vaccine may be available.

Vaccine side effects

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

More about flu vaccine side effects

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).

It's safe to get the flu and coronavirus vaccines at the same time.

Eligible health conditions

People with certain health conditions are at greater risk from flu.

Chronic respiratory disease (from 6 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 (from 6 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 (from 6 months or older)

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

Chronic liver disease (from 6 months or older)

Cirrhosis, biliary atresia, chronic hepatitis.

Chronic neurological disease (from 6 months or older)
  • Stroke, transient ischaemic attack (TIA).
  • Conditions in which respiratory function may be compromised, due to neurological disease (for example polio syndrome sufferers).
  • Clinicians should offer the vaccine, 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
Diabetes (from 6 months or older)

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

Immunosuppression (from 6 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 (for example 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.

Pregnant women

At any stage of pregnancy (first, second or third trimesters).

If you feel your condition or medication does not appear on the list, please talk to the clinician that manages your condition. They may be able to refer you to your NHS Board for vaccination if appropriate.

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 old and have an eligible health condition (or care for someone who does) you should also get the vaccine.

More about the child flu vaccine

Last updated:
31 January 2023