Flu and the flu vaccine

Flu is a highly infectious illness that spreads rapidly through the coughs and sneezes of people who are carrying the virus.

If you're at risk of complications from flu, make sure you have your annual flu jab available from September onwards.

Who should have the jab?

You are eligible for an NHS flu vaccination if you are in an 'at-risk' group.

Find out if you should have the flu jab

Flu symptoms can hit quite suddenly and severely. They usually include fever, chills, headaches and aching muscles. You can often get a cough and sore throat.

Because flu is caused by a virus and not bacteria, antibiotics won't treat it.

Anyone can get flu, but it can be more serious for certain people, such as:

  • people aged 65 or over
  • people who have a serious medical condition
  • pregnant women 

If you are in one of these groups, you're more vulnerable to the effects of flu (even if you're fit and healthy) and could develop flu complications, which are more serious illnesses such as bronchitis and pneumonia, which could result in hospitalisation.

Flu can also make existing medical conditions worse.

Read more about flu.

Should you have the flu jab?

See your GP about the flu jab if you’re 65 or over, or if you have any of the following problems (however old you are):

  • a serious heart complaint
  • a chest complaint or breathing difficulties, including asthma, bronchitis and emphysema
  • serious kidney disease
  • diabetes
  • lowered immunity due to disease or treatment such as steroid medication or cancer treatment
  • if you have a problem with your spleen or you have had your spleen removed
  • if you have ever had a stroke

Your GP may advise you to have a flu jab if you have serious liver disease, multiple sclerosis (MS) or some other diseases of the nervous system.

Can I get a flu jab privately?

Yes, you can pay for the flu vaccination privately if you’re unable to have it on the NHS. It is available from some pharmacies and GPs on a private patient basis.

Pregnant women and the flu jab

If you're pregnant, you should have the flu jab, regardless of the stage of pregnancy you've reached. Pregnant women are more prone to complications from flu that can cause serious illness for both mother and baby.

If you are pregnant and catch flu, talk to your GP urgently as you may need treatment with antiviral medicine.

Read more about the flu jab in pregnancy.

Children and the flu jab

You may have read that all children are now able to have the flu jab on the NHS. This isn't quite true. Although it's been recommended that all children between the ages of 2 and 17 should have an annual flu vaccination, this won't be offered to them on the NHS until 2014. For more information read our flu vaccine for children Q&A.

In the meantime, it's important that children with a long-term health condition receive the flu jab because their illness could get worse if they catch flu. This includes any child over the age of six months with a long-term health problem such as a serious respiratory or neurological condition. 

If you have a child with a long-term condition, speak to your GP about whether they should have the flu vaccination.

Carers and the flu jab

If you’re the carer of an elderly or disabled person, make sure they’ve had their flu jab. As a carer, you could be eligible for a flu jab too. Ask your GP for advice, or read our information about Flu jabs for carers.

How to get the flu jab

If you think you need a flu vaccination, check with your GP, practice nurse or your local pharmacist.

The best time of the year to have a flu vaccination is in the autumn from September to early November. Most GP surgeries arrange flu vaccination clinics around this time. It’s free and it's effective against the latest flu virus strains.

Even if you've already had a flu jab in previous years, you need another one this year. The flu jab may only protect you for a year. This is because the viruses that cause flu are always changing. 

The pneumo jab

When you see your GP for a flu jab, ask whether you also need the 'pneumo jab' to protect you against some forms of pneumococcal infection. Like the flu jab, it’s available free on the NHS to everyone aged 65 or over, and for younger people with some serious medical conditions.

How effective is the flu jab?

No vaccine is 100% effective, however, people who have had the flu jab are less likely to get flu. If you do get flu despite having the jab, it will probably be milder than if you haven’t been vaccinated.

The flu jab doesn’t cause flu as it doesn’t contain live viruses. However, you may experience side effects after having the jab, such as a temperature and aching muscles for a couple of days afterwards. Your arm may feel sore at the site where you were injected. More severe reactions are rare.

The flu vaccine only protects against flu, but not other illnesses caused by other viruses, such as the common cold.

Who shouldn’t have the flu jab?

You shouldn't have the flu vaccination if:

  • you've had a serious reaction to a flu vaccination before
  • you have a high temperature (postpone it until you're better)

Not all flu vaccines are suitable for children, so discuss this with your GP beforehand.

Speak to your GP, practice nurse or pharmacist if you have any further questions.

Read more about the flu jab.

Last reviewed: 15/09/2012

Next review due: 15/09/2013

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Comments are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Pinkel said on 26 March 2013

Influenza is a very common infection which spreads around the world as a seasonal epidemic, killing up to half-a-million people each year and millions more in a pandemic year. The main points to bear in mind are:

(i) Shedding can occur for about 7 days after, and for 1 day before, symptoms appear.

(ii) Inhalation of a single droplet of infection will transmit the disease.

(iii) The use of soap, and alcohol gel, inactivates the virus on the hands.

(iv) Dilute bleach destroys the virus on surfaces.

(v) The virus may contaminate hard surfaces for up to 2 days.

(vi) The virus, in droplets, can travel up to 12 feet when propelled by a sneeze.

(vii) Antibiotics are not effective against influenza, or any other virus.

(vii) White blood cells (leukocytes) alone cannot defeat the virus.

(viii) Y-cells are the best immune response, but they can be overwhelmed.

A flu vaccine is usually produced by injecting the virus into fertilised hen-eggs and allowing them to multiply. The virus is then rendered inactive and after further purification the protein antigens are separated to make the vaccine; these particles are harmless but they cause the body to respond by producing antibodies which are the defence against future attacks. An allergic reaction to egg protein is possible, although rare; for this reason, new patients are required to remain in the surgery for about 30 minutes, and others for about 10 minutes after vaccination. An annual vaccination program is necessary because the virus proteins on the surface of the virus may mutate and not be recognised by the antibodies, in addition the anti-bodies are only effective for about one year.

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Kathryn at NHS Choices said on 19 November 2012

Dear Jchacona,

As long as you are well and feeling fine, it is perfectly ok to have the flu jab while you are taking antibiotics.

Thanks,

Kathryn, Live Well Editor

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jchacona said on 14 November 2012

Hi, I am currently taking antibiotics for a cold/possible flu (probably not needed, but started them anyway). I feel fine now but need to finish my run of medication. As I would like to get the flu shot, I wanted to know if I can I get it whilst taking antibiotics? If not, how long should I wait until getting the shot? Thanks!

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Kasper Ramsey said on 21 November 2011

Tolera and User612828

If you find out from your GP, which flu jab they are using then go to this website, you can find the patient Info leaflet and the SPC for all the flu vaccinations, it will tell you exactly what is in the vaccine -

http://www.medicines.org.uk/EMC/default.aspx

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Kathryn at NHS Choices said on 21 November 2011

Dear hsue,

It's safe to have the flu jab at any stage of pregnancy including while you are trying to get pregnant through ivf treatment.

Best wishes,

Kathryn Bingham, Live Well editor

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hsue said on 09 November 2011

hi does anyone know if its safe to have a flu jab when your starting ivf

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User612828 said on 04 November 2011

Tolera I whole heartedly agree with you on that point.

"We read labels on jam jars to see what they contain. We must also have the opportunity to see what all the vaccine ingredients are. We may then be able to find out about possible side effects. We surely have the right to know what may be introduced into our bodies."
Why on earth do we not have access to the ingredience in our vaccinations? Are they trying to hide something prehaps? Prehaps the fact that they contain high doses of poisonous chemicals including mercury which is a highly toxic chemical.'

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User612828 said on 03 November 2011

Tolera I whole heartedly agree with you on that point.

"We read labels on jam jars to see what they contain. We must also have the opportunity to see what all the vaccine ingredients are. We may then be able to find out about possible side effects. We surely have the right to know what may be introduced into our bodies."
Why on earth do we not have access to the ingredience in our vaccinations?

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Jim O said on 20 October 2011

I am 59, I've got COPD, sleep apnoea, and numerous diseases. I also have a supressed imune system and I don't mix with large groups because I always get ill if there is anything like a virus going about. I picked up something like the Nova Virus in hospital and thought I was going to die.

I used to get the Flu Jab as a matter of course. My GP who is very good, tells me the Flu Jabs are now counted and I am not eligible. So what has changed? The government must be rationing the flu antidote and if I get the flu it could kill me as I am extremely weak. Another Govt policy that doesn't make sense.

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Kathryn at NHS Choices said on 18 January 2011

Dear zamo,

You can read more about why certain groups are eligible for a free flu vaccination and others (including healthy children) are not at http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Flu-jab/Pages/FAQs.aspx

We'll let you know on this website if the current advice changes.

Kathryn Bingham, Live Well editor

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diamond lilly said on 11 January 2011

i had and still have weakened immune system that had left me disabilty cause severity weakened immune system had colds and coughs every wk and bad flu every yr fm 1997 to present time was never offered flu jab im 54 my gp health centre neglegent i should ask them why but i feel my surgery doctor offer a poor patient doctor consultation i dont want see them any more than they want see me they will give go head for the nurse to do jab or not......

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zamo said on 07 January 2011

i found out today that my 15 month old son is no longer able to have the swine flu jab on the nhs, as the guildlines are now different! (1) i would like to know what has changed in the last few months? as under 5s were classed high risk last time i checked and (2) when did this change come in2 affect? the (DOH) still clearly state that young children and the olderly are affected the worst. but the over 65s r still able 2 get the vaccination. and they can even purchase it over the counter.. like myself and my partner can. but i cant get the jab for my son as most stores wont give it 2 children under 5yrs... so how can i protect my son from swine flu this year????surely every1 has the right 2 or not 2 av the jab, on the nhs or not... as this type of flu can cause death in small children, SO ALL CHILDREN UNDER 5 YEARS R NOW AT A HIGHER RISK OF GETTING IT AS THEY HAVENT GOT THE CHOICE 2 AV THE JAB OR NOT, AS ITS IMPOSSIBLE 4 PARENTS 2 GET IT FOR THEM COZ OF THERE AGE!! any suggestions???

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zamo said on 07 January 2011

i found out today that my 15 month old son is no longer able to have the swine flu jab on the nhs, as the guildlines are now different! (1) i would like to know what has changed in the last few months? as under 5s were classed high risk last time i checked and (2) when did this change come in2 affect? the (DOH) still clearly state that young children and the olderly are affected the worst. but the over 65s r still able 2 get the vaccination. and they can even purchase it over the counter.. like myself and my partner can. but i cant get the jab for my son as most stores wont give it 2 children under 5yrs... so how can i protect my son from swine flu this year????surely every1 has the right 2 or not 2 av the jab, on the nhs or not... as this type of flu can cause death in small children, So all children under 5 years r now at a higher risk of getting it as they havent got the choice 2 av the jab or not, as its impossible 4 parents 2 get it for them coz of there age!! Any suggestions???

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Tolera said on 02 January 2011

We read labels on jam jars to see what they contain. We must also have the opportunity to see what all the vaccine ingredients are. We may then be able to find out about possible side effects. We surely have the right to know what may be introduced into our bodies.

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