The Flu Vaccine
What is Flu?
Flu is an infectious and common viral illness spread by coughs and sneezes.
It's not the same as the common cold. Flu is caused by a different group of viruses. Symptoms tend to be more severe and last longer. You can catch flu – short for influenza – all year round, but it is especially common in winter, which is why it is also known as "seasonal flu".
Flu causes a sudden high temperature, headache and general aches and pains, tiredness and a sore throat. You can also lose your appetite, feel nauseous and have a cough. Flu symptoms can make you feel so exhausted and unwell that you have to stay in bed and rest until you feel better.
People who Should Have Flu Jab
The injected flu vaccine is offered free of charge on the NHS to people who are at risk. This is to ensure they are protected against catching flu and developing serious complications.
Over-65s and the flu jab
Flu can be more severe in people aged 65 or over. Flu can lead to serious complications such as bronchitis and pneumonia and you could end up in hospital.
The flu virus strikes in winter and it can be for more serious than you think. That is why the flu jab is free if you are aged 65 or over, or if you have a long-term condition.
Pregnant women and the flu jab
If you are pregnant, you are advised to have the injectable flu vaccine, regardless of the stage of pregnancy you have reached. That is because there is strong evidence to suggest pregnant women have an increased risk of developing complications if they get flu.
If you are pregnant, you will benefit from the flu vaccine because:
- It reduces your chance of getting serious complications of flu, such as pneumonia, particularly in the later stages of pregnancy
- It reduces your risk of having a miscarriage, or your baby being born prematurely or with a low birth weight because of the flu
- It will help protect your baby as they will continue to have some immunity to flu for the first few months of their life.
It is safe to have the flu vaccine at any stage of pregnancy from conception onwards. The vaccine does not carry any risks for you or your baby. Talk to your GP or midwife if you are unsure about the vaccination. Read more about the flu jab in pregnancy.
Flu jab for people with medical conditions
The injected flu vaccine is offered free of charge on the NHS to anyone with a serious long-term health condition. That includes these types of illnesses:
- Chronic (long-term) respiratory diseases, such as asthma (which requires an inhaled or tablet steroid treatment, or has led to hospital admission in the past), Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), or Bronchitis
- Chronic heart disease, such as heart failure
- Chronic kidney disease
- Chronic liver disease, such as hepatitis
- Chronic neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease or Motor Neurone Disease
- Problems with your spleen – for example, sickle cell disease or if you have had your spleen removed
- A weakened immune system as the result of conditions such as HIV and AIDS, or medication such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy
This list of conditions is not definitive. It is always an issue of clinical judgement. Your GP can assess you individually to take into account the risk of flu exacerbating any underlying illness you may have, as well as your risk of serious illness from flu itself. The vaccine should always be offered in such cases, even if you are not technically in one of the risk groups above.
If you live with someone who has a weakened immune system, you may also be advised to have a flu vaccine. Speak to your GP or pharmacist about this.
Flu vaccine for children
Children aged two, three and four years can have a nasal spray vaccination from their GP; while school children in years 1, 2 and 3 will be invited by the school health nursing teams to get the nasal spray vaccination at school.
Help protect them from flu with one simple nasal spray. It is free fast and painless. Do not put it off. Take up the offer from your GP as soon as you can. Flu can be horrible for little children and if they get it, they can easily spread it around the whole family.
Flu jab for carers
If you care for someone who is elderly or disabled, speak to your GP or pharmacist about having a flu jab along with the person you care for.
Read more about the flu jab for carers on the Carers UK website.
Flu jab for health and social care workers
Outbreaks of flu can occur in health and social care settings, and, because flu is so contagious, staff, patients and residents are all at risk of infection.
If you are a front-line health and social care worker, you are eligible for an NHS flu jab to protect yourself, your colleagues and other members of the community.
It is your employer’s responsibility to arrange vaccination for you. So, if you are an NHS-employed front-line healthcare worker, the NHS will pay for your vaccination. If you are a social care worker, your employer – for example, your local authority – will pay for vaccination. In the case of health and social care workers employed by private companies; those companies will arrange and pay for the vaccinations.