Flu vaccine programme 2023
Flu is an infectious illness. It spreads through the coughs and sneezes of people who are carrying the virus. The flu vaccine makes it less likely that you will get flu. If you do get flu, you are less likely to become seriously ill if you’ve had the vaccine.
Who can have the flu vaccine on the NHS?
Since 2020, the NHS has offered an extended programme of flu vaccination. This year, the criteria for people who can get a free flu vaccine has changed.
People who can have the flu vaccine free on the NHS during the 2023 to 2024 flu season include:
People in at-risk groups and those who care for them
- Anyone aged 6 months or over with certain health conditions. (In Scotland, anyone with these conditions aged 18 or over.) This includes people with a lowered immune system because of medicine they’re taking.
- Close contacts of someone with a lowered immune system.
- Pregnant people.
- Anyone living in a residential care home.
- Frontline workers in health and social care.
- Anyone in England or Wales aged 65 or over.
- Anyone in Scotland or Northern Ireland aged 50 or over.
Children and school staff
- In England and Wales, all children aged 2 or 3 years on 31 August 2023. Also, all primary school children and some secondary school children.
- In Scotland and Northern Ireland, all children aged 2 and older. This includes those at primary or secondary school.
Eligibility varies depending on where you live. You might want to check the full details for your nation:
Are all people with Crohn's or Colitis eligible?
Having Crohn’s or Colitis does not automatically mean you can have the flu vaccine free on the NHS. But if you take certain medicines for your Crohn’s or Colitis, you might be eligible.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) and British Society for Gastroenterology (BSG) recommend having the flu vaccine if you take medicines that lower or alter your immune system. These include:
This is not a complete list of medicines which, if you are taking them, means you can get the vaccine on the NHS. The decision is not always clear-cut. Your doctor should decide whether the treatment you are on puts you at risk of serious problems if you get flu.
- Many people taking oral or intravenous steroids can get the flu vaccine on the NHS. But you might not be eligible to have it for free if you are on a low dose.
- If you think you might be able to get the vaccine on the NHS, talk to your doctor. You might find it helpful to print this page or to show them the BSG recommendations. The chapter on flu in UKHSA’s ‘Green Book’ might also be useful. This includes specific guidance on which medicines mean you can have the flu vaccine on the NHS.
Most children over 2, including all primary school children, can get the flu vaccine on the NHS.
The school vaccination programme uses the nasal spray flu vaccine. This is not recommended for children who have a lowered immune system because it is a live vaccine. This means it is made from a weakened version of living viruses. In people who have a lowered immune system, live vaccines may cause infections.
The injectable flu vaccine is not live and is safe for people who have a lowered immune system.
It is best to ask your child's IBD team which vaccine is suitable for your child.
If your immune system is low and a child you live with has the nasal spray flu vaccine, there may be a very low risk of catching flu from them. Although possible, no case of this has ever been recorded. But if your immune system is severely lowered, you may wish to see if they can have the injected vaccine instead. You can do this by contacting the child’s GP or school.
What if I’m not eligible to have the flu vaccine on the NHS?
If you are not eligible to have the flu vaccine on the NHS, you could choose to have it privately. You can get a private flu vaccine from many high-street or supermarket pharmacies. It usually costs around £10 or £20.
It may be helpful to talk to your IBD team before you have the vaccine.
When should I have the flu vaccine?
High doses of steroids may have an impact on how effective the flu vaccine is. This is especially true if you are taking immunosuppressants at the same time. The BSG recommends that you should have the vaccine when you are taking the lowest steroid dose, if possible. Taking anti-TNF medicines doesn't seem to have a significant impact on the effectiveness of the flu vaccine.
How do I get the flu vaccine?
The system for having the flu vaccine is different in the four nations of the UK.
When and where you can get your vaccine depends on your age, job and clinical risk group. You can find out more from NI Direct.
If you live in Scotland and are eligible for a flu vaccine on the NHS, you should be contacted when it’s your turn. You can check online what vaccines you’re eligible for and how to book.
If you can have the vaccine on the NHS, you will be able to get it at your GP surgery or at some community pharmacies. If you work in health or social care, you may be able to get it through your employer. Children who are eligible for the flu vaccine on the NHS will be able to get it from their GP surgery or at school. You can find out more from Public Health Wales.
COVID-19 booster vaccinations and flu
You may have a lowered immune system because of medicine you’re taking for Crohn’s or Colitis. If this is the case, you might be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine booster. You should be able to get both the flu vaccine and COVID-19 booster at the same appointment. If so, you will have one vaccine in each arm.
It is safe and effective to have the COVID-19 and flu vaccines at the same time.
The vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and others against COVID-19. If you’re at higher risk, it is especially important to keep up-to-date with vaccinations. For more information, see COVID-19 in people with Crohn’s or Colitis.