The flu vaccination: Your questions answered

10 mins read

Monday 12 October 2020

Winter is coming, and at-risk groups entitled to a free flu vaccination this year include children, carers, people with learning disabilities and adults with long-term health and medical conditions.

Our health lead Amanda has put together some questions and answers about getting a flu vaccination, which address some of the concerns parents have raised on our Facebook page recently.

Why does my child or young person 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 who are 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-year olds are offered the nasal spray flu vaccine by their GP surgery. Primary age school children (reception to year 6) will be offered the same vaccine at school, along with pupils in the first year of secondary school. 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-twoss. 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 too?

Carers, including parent carers, are eligible for the free fu 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 also get a free jab if you live with someone who’s at high risk from coronavirus (on the NHS shielded patient list). 

Some parent carers have told us their GP practice has said they are not eligible. Our advice is to politely persist with your GP, reminding them of the NHS eligibility guidance. Some GP practices have already run out of initial vaccine supplies, so you might need to wait a bit while they get more in. 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?


Where to get a vaccine


From 6 months until 2 years (with a long-term condition)

GP Surgery


From 2 years until your child starts primary school

GP surgery

Nasal spray

All children at primary school


All year 7 school children


*Children aged 12 to 17 years with long term conditions

GP surgery

Home schooled children (aged 4 to 11 years)

Community clinic

Aged 18 and over with a learning disability or long-term health condition


GP surgery or pharmacy


* If your school-aged child has a long-term health condition, you can ask the GP surgery to give the vaccine instead of having it at school.

** 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 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?

For children with rare conditions such as diabetes, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophies and primary immunodeficiencies, the flu jab is highly recommended 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 child’s consultant for advice. 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 if 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 primary age school children and children in the first year (year 7) of secondary school will receive a flu 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.                                                                                                                        

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. During the current pandemic, it may be easier to attend as there will be fewer people in the surgery and less time to wait. 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 also 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 your family should continue taking precautions including regular handwashing and social distancing. 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 jab to prevent one of them.

What is in the flu jab?

The nasal spray is called Fluenz Tetra and 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 ones. 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 will 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.