Flu vaccination is available every year on the NHS to protect against flu and its complications.
Flu can be unpleasant, but if you are otherwise healthy it will usually clear up on its own within a week. However, flu can be serious, and every year flu kills.
Flu is likely to be more severe in certain people, such as:
- anyone aged 65 and over
- pregnant women
- children and adults with an underlying health condition (particularly long-term heart, liver, kidney or respiratory disease)
- children and adults with weakened immune systems
- anyone who has had stroke or a mini stroke
Anyone in these risk groups is more likely to develop potentially serious complications of flu, such as pneumonia (a lung infection), so it's recommended that they have a flu vaccine every year to protect them.
The annual flu vaccine is given free on the NHS as an annual injection to:
- adults over the age of 18 at risk of flu (including everyone aged 65 and over)
- children aged six months to two years at risk of flu
The annual flu nasal spray vaccination is routinely given this flu season to:
- children aged two and three years old
- children in school reception class, years one, two and three.
- children aged two to under 18 years at a particular risk of flu
How effective is the flu vaccine?
Every year the World Health Organization (WHO) predict what strains of flu will be circulating the following winter. Most years it is well matched and there is good protection. In 2014/15 the flu vaccine provided low protection against flu infection, normally the vaccine is better matched and offers better protection. Flu vaccine is the best way to protect against flu.
Protection against this unpredictable virus is important as it can cause unpleasant illness in children and severe illness and death among at-risk groups, including older people, pregnant women and those with an underlying medical health condition.
Studies have shown that the flu jab is still the best way to protect against flu and will help prevent flu. It won't stop all flu viruses and the level of protection may vary between years, and between people, so it's not a 100% guarantee that you'll be flu-free, but if you do get flu after vaccination it's likely to be milder and shorter-lived than it would otherwise have been.
Over time, protection from flu decreases and flu strains often change. So new flu vaccines are produced each year which is why people advised to have the flu vaccine need it every year too.
Flu vaccine side effects
Serious side effects of flu vaccines are very rare. You may have a slight temperature and aching muscles for a couple of days after having the vaccine, and your arm may be a bit sore where you were injected.
When to have a flu vaccine
The best time to have a flu vaccine is before flu starts to circulate. Ideally this is in the autumn, from the beginning of October, but don't worry if you've missed it, you can still have the vaccine later in winter if there are stocks left. Ask your GP or pharmacist.
Is there anyone who shouldn't have the flu vaccine?
Most adults can have the injected flu vaccine, but you should avoid it if you have had a serious allergic reaction to a flu vaccine in the past.
You can find out more by reading the answers to the most common questions that people have about the flu vaccine.