For most people, flu is an unpleasant illness, but it's not serious. If you are otherwise healthy, you will usually recover from flu within a week.
However, certain people are more likely to develop potentially serious complications of flu, such as bronchitis and pneumonia. These people are advised to have a flu jab each year.
People who should have a flu vaccine
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.
You are eligible to receive a free flu vaccine if you:
- are 65 years of age or over (includes people who will be 65 before 31st March 2018)
- are pregnant
- have certain medical conditions
- are very overweight (BMI of 40 and over)
- are living in a long-stay residential care home or other long-stay care facility
- receive a carer's allowance, or you are the main carer for an elderly or disabled person whose welfare may be at risk if you fall ill
- are a healthcare worker with direct patient contact, or a social care worker
- Children over 6mths who have a long term medical condition, children 2-3 yrs old and also children in reception class or years 1,2 and 3.
Over-65s and the flu vaccine
You are eligible for the flu vaccine this year (2017-18) if you are aged 65 and over on March 31 2018 – that is, you were born on or before March 31 1953. So, if you are currently 64 but will be 65 on March 31 2018, you do qualify.
Pregnant women and the flu vaccine
If you're pregnant, you're advised to have the injectable flu vaccine, regardless of the stage of pregnancy you've reached.
That's because there's strong evidence to suggest pregnant women have an increased risk of developing complications if they get flu.
If you're 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's safe to have the flu vaccine at any stage of pregnancy from conception onwards. The vaccine doesn't 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 vaccine in pregnancy.
Flu vaccine for people with medical conditions
The injected flu vaccine is offered free of charge on the NHS to people with serious long-term health conditions. 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 isn't definitive. It's 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.
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 if you're very overweight
The injected flu vaccine is recommended for anyone who is severely overweight with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or more.
Read more about BMI and how to check it.
Flu vaccine for children
The flu vaccine is recommended for:
- children over the age of six months with a long-term health condition
- children aged two and three plus children in reception class, year one, year two and year three in primary school.
Children aged between six months and two years of age who are eligible for the flu vaccine should have the flu jab.
Children eligible for the flu vaccine aged between two and 17 will usually have the flu vaccine nasal spray.
Read about who should have the children's flu vaccine.
Flu vaccine 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're a front-line health and social care worker, you are eligible for an NHS flu vaccine 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.
Flu vaccine for carers
If you care for someone who is elderly or disabled, speak to your GP about having a flu vaccine.
Read more about the flu vaccine for carers on the Carers UK website.