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 coroanvirus, this year the flu vaccine will be offered for free to more people in England, 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
  • Children in year 7 at secondary school (all children in pre-school over the age of two and those in primary school are already eligible)
  • An extension for people over the age of 50 - following the initial vaccination of the over 65s  

Plans for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have not yet been announced.

There are other factors which may make you eligible to receive the vaccine for free, including if you have certain long-term health conditions or are pregnant. Visit the NHS website for more information. 

Are people with Crohn's or Colitis eligible?

The NHS eligibility list says you will be offered the flu vaccine for free if you take steroid tablets.

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.

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

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.

Before having the vaccine, you may wish to discuss it with your own medical team. 

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.