Families urged to not miss out their free NHS flu vaccine

9 mins read

Thursday 30 September 2021

Tags: flu vaccine, influenza, winter illness

We are urging families to not miss out on getting the free flu vaccination for themselves and their children as winter and the flu season loom.

NHS England has already started sending out invitations for flu vaccinations to all ‘at risk’ groups including carers, children and medically vulnerable people. And for the first time, older secondary school pupils aged up to 15, including those aged 15 on 31 August 2021, are included in this year’s vaccination programme.

Following the lifting of COVID restrictions, health chiefs want more people than ever vaccinated against flu this winter because they are worried about the impact of flu circulating widely alongside COVID in the UK for the first time.

It is safe to have your flu vaccine and COVID booster at the same time if it is offered. But the NHS have warned people against delaying getting their flu jab now if their COVID vaccine booster is scheduled for later this winter.

People eligible for a free flu jab in 2021-22 include:

  • All children aged two and three on 31 August 2021
  • All children aged 2–15 (but not 16 years or older) on 31 August 2021
  • Those aged 6 months to under 50 years in clinical risk groups
  • Pregnant women
  • People aged 50 years and over
  • Unpaid carers
  • People close contacts of people with weakened immune systems
  • Frontline health and adult social care staff including paid carers employed via direct payments

Our health lead Amanda has put together some questions and answers about getting a flu vaccination, to address concerns parents have raised with Contact.

Why does my child need a flu vaccination?

Flu is caused by a virus that can be a very unpleasant illness for children and lead to serious problems like bronchitis or pneumonia. Children also help to spread flu. The flu season starts in September and runs through the winter.

Vaccinating your child protects them and others vulnerable to flu. People with a learning disability are more likely to develop pneumonia if they get flu. Find out more about why we still need to worry about the flu.

Is my child or young person eligible for a free flu vaccination?

Two and three-years olds are eligible for the nasal vaccine delivered at the GP surgery. School age children up to the age of 15 (including those aged 15 on the 31 August 2021) will be offered the  vaccine nasal spray. The nasal spray is also available to children aged two to 17 with long-term health conditions. However, if the spray is unsuitable, for example if they have a weakened immune system, they can have the jab instead.

Children aged six months to two years in the high-risk group for flu will be offered an injected flu vaccine instead because the spray is not licensed for under-twos. Young people aged 18 and over who have a learning disability or a long-term condition are also eligible for an injected vaccine. Find out more about who is eligible and more about the children’s flu vaccine.

I am a parent carer. Do I get a free flu jab?

Carers, including parent carers, are eligible for the free flu vaccine if you get Carer’s Allowance or are the main carer for an older or disabled person who may be at risk. You can get a free jab if you live with someone who’s at high risk from coronavirus .

If you struggle to get registered on the GP carers register, our advice is to politely persist with your GP, reminding them of the NHS eligibility guidance.  You can also approach your local pharmacy who can also provide free flu vaccinations to carers and adults with learning disabilities.

Where can my child or young person have their flu jab?

Babies aged 6 months to 2 years with a long-term condition will be offered the injected vaccine at the GP surgery. Children aged 2 to primary school age will be offered the nasal vaccine at their GP surgery.

Primary and secondary school pupils aged  up to 15, including those aged 15 on 31 August 2021, will be offered the nasal spray vaccine via school.  School aged children with a long-term health condition can ask to receive their vaccine at the GP surgery instead. Young people aged 18 and over with a learning disability, carers and people or a long-term health condition can receive their flu vaccine at the GP surgery or pharmacy. Home-schooled children should be invited for vaccination by the local healthcare team. If you do not hear from them, ask your child’s GP where they should go for vaccination.

Is the flu vaccine safe? Does it have side effects?

The flu vaccine is very safe and effective, and most side effects are mild. From the injected vaccine, you may get a slight raised temperature, muscle aches or a sore arm where the needle went it, but these should not last more than a day or two. From the nasal spray vaccine, you may get a runny or blocked nose, decreased appetite, tiredness and headache.

Very rarely someone may have a serious allergic reaction to the flu vaccines, but this usually happens within minutes and healthcare staff administering the vaccine are trained to deal with this. Many millions of doses have been given in this and other countries. If you have concerns, talk to your GP or child’s consultant.

My child has a rare/complex condition, is it safe for them to have the flu vaccine?

The flu jab is highly recommended for children with rare conditions such as diabetes, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophies and primary immunodeficiencies, because they are much more vulnerable to flu complications. There will be very rare exceptions, but if in any doubt, speak to your GP or get advice from your child’s consultant If the nasal spray vaccine is not suitable, an injected vaccine can usually be given.

My young person has a learning disability, but they have not been invited for a flu jab yet. What should I do?

If your child is 14 or over, call the practice and check they are on the practice’s learning disability register and ask for them to be added. This will trigger invitations for your young person to have a flu vaccine and an Annual Health Check. Even if they are not on the register, they can still have a free flu vaccine at their GP practice. Find out more about the learning disability register and Annual Health Checks.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

My son/daughter is autistic, but they do not have a diagnosed learning disability. Can they get a free flu vaccination?

Most school children will be offered the nasal vaccination at school. Younger or older autistic children are also eligible for a free flu vaccination if they have a learning disability or other long-term health condition.  For young people not eligible for the free NHS vaccine, you can pay to receive the vaccine at some local and high street pharmacies for under £20.                                                                                                                   

My child/young person struggles to attend GP appointments. What can I do?

Families can ask GP surgeries to make reasonable adjustments and provide easy read information to help their young person access the vaccine.  See more here on reasonable adjustments and advice from us on making GP surgeries more welcoming for disabled children and their families. 

Is the flu vaccine effective? I have heard it gives you flu.

Flu vaccines help protect against the main types of flu viruses circulating now, although there is still a chance you might get flu. If you do get flu after vaccination, it is likely to be milder and not last as long. Having the flu vaccine will stop you spreading flu to others who are more at risk of serious problems from flu. It can take 10 to 14 days for the flu vaccine to work. Flu vaccines do not cause flu.

Will the flu jab protect me and my child from Covid-19?

The flu vaccine will not prevent you or your loved one from getting coronavirus, so continue taking precautions including regular handwashing. Having both flu and coronavirus diseases (yes, you can have both at the same time) is riskier for your health, so it makes sense to get the flu jab as well as your COVID vaccine. It is safe to have both vaccines at the same time but don’t delay having your flu vaccine if your COVID booster jab is scheduled for later this year.

What is in the flu jab?

The nasal spray is Fluenz Tetra contains small amounts of weakened flu virus. The spray contains pork gelatine. If this is unsuitable, speak to your child’s nurse or doctor about other options. Children with weakened immune systems or long-term health conditions can have the injectable vaccine instead.

There are several types of injected flu vaccine. None contains live viruses, so they are called inactivated vaccines. You will be offered one that is most effective for you, depending on your age. For adults aged 18 to 64, there are different types, including low-egg and egg-free vaccine. Talk to a GP, practice nurse or pharmacist for more information.

Does my child or young person have to have a flu jab?

Having the flu vaccine is voluntary. You need to give permission for your child to have the vaccine, so look out for the consent form in your child’s school bag. Young people under 16 years old who understand the pros and cons of the vaccine may be able to give consent themselves.

Young people aged 16 upward are entitled to consent to having the flu vaccine themselves, unless there is ‘significant evidence’ they cannot. Young people aged over 18 must give consent themselves, unless they cannot. In this situation a trained professional will involve their carer and assess the young person’s capacity to make a ‘best interests’ decision on their behalf.

We recommend using Easy Read information on the flu vaccine or this video to help young people with learning disabilities understand what to expect.