Flu Vaccine: Crohn’s and Colitis

24 July 2020

Some people with Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis are eligible to receive the annual flu vaccine on the NHS.

Flu is an infectious illness that spreads rapidly through the coughs and sneezes of people who are carrying the virus. The flu vaccine makes it less likely that you will catch flu and, if you have had the vaccine and do get flu, you are more likely to recover quickly.

In order to protect the NHS during coronavirus, this year the flu vaccine will be offered for free to more people across the UK - including people who are on the government's shielding list due to being at high risk of complications from coronavirus, and those who live with someone who is on the shielding list.

​There are other factors which may make you eligible to receive the vaccine for free, including if you have certain long-term health conditions, if you are pregnant or due to your age. Eligibility varies depending on where you live, so check the specific information for your nation:

Are people with Crohn's or Colitis eligible?

If you're taking steroids it's likely you'll be offered the flu vaccine for free.

If you take a medicine that weakens your immune system, like a biologic or immunosuppressant such as azathioprine, you may also be at increased risk of complications if you get the flu. Guidelines from the British Society of Gastroenterology (BSG) and the IBD Standards state that you should have the annual flu vaccine to reduce your risk of complications - so you should speak to your doctor about whether you may be eligible to have the vaccine for free. You may find our open letter to vaccine providers explaining who with Crohn's or Colitis is eligible for the free flu vaccine helpful.

If you have Crohn’s or Colitis but are not taking a medicine that weakens your immune system, you are not eligible for the free flu vaccine, as you are less likely to be at an increased risk of complications. However we recommend that you still opt to have the vaccine privately in order to stay well and protect yourself and others. The flu vaccine is normally available during flu season (October - January) in most high-street or supermarket pharmacies and usually costs less than £20 - although availability may be different this year due to coronavirus. 

It may be helpful to talk to your IBD team before you have the vaccine.

Children
IBD teams also recommend that children with Crohn's or Colitis have a regular flu injection, however, the nasal spray flu vaccine which is available for younger children through their school vaccination programme is not recommended for those taking immunosuppressants or with weakened immune systems. This is because it contains the live forms of modified flu virus. It should still be possible to have the inactivated injectable flu vaccine. It is best to check with your child's IBD team whether it would be more suitable for them to have the nasal spray, or the injectable vaccine.

Campaigning for access

Our Chief Executive Sarah Sleet has written a joint letter with the Presidents of the British Society of Gastroenterology and British Society of Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition to the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, the body that advises UK health departments on immunisation. 

We have also raised the issue with the Scottish Parliament Cross-Party Group on Inflammatory Bowel Disease, which will be writing a letter to the Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing. 

We’re also contacting the public health bodies in each of the four nations to try to raise the profile of Crohn’s and Colitis in their messaging.



Both the BSG Guidelines and IBD Standards recommend that people taking immunosuppressants or biological drugs are given the flu vaccine. Although this guidance is not mandatory, if you have been told by your doctor that you are not eligible for the flu jab, you can point them in the direction of this guidance. Our open letter to vaccine providers can help you start the conversation.