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 more severe in certain people, such as:
- anyone aged 65 and over
- pregnant women
- children and adults with an underlying health condition (such as long-term heart or respiratory disease)
- children and adults with weakened immune systems
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 injected flu vaccine is offered free on the NHS annually to:
- adults over the age of 18 at risk of flu (including everyone aged 65 and over)
- pregnant women
- children aged six months to two years at risk of flu
Find out more about who should have the flu jab.
Flu nasal spray vaccination
The flu vaccine is routinely given on the NHS as an annual nasal sprayto:
- children aged two and three plus children in reception class and school years one, two, three and four.
- children aged two to 17 years at a particular risk of flu
Read more about the flu nasal spray for children.
65 and overs and the flu jab
You are eligible for the flu vaccine this year (2017-18) if you will be 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.
Where to get the flu jab
You can have your NHS flu jab at:
- your GP surgery
- a local pharmacy offering the service
- your midwifery service if they offer it for pregnant women
Some community pharmacies now offer flu vaccination to adults (but not children) at risk of flu including pregnant women, people aged 65 and over, people with long-term health conditions and carers.
If you have your flu jab at a pharmacy, you don’t have to inform your GP – it is up to the pharmacist to do that.
How effective is the flu jab?
Flu vaccine is the best protection we have against an unpredictable virus that 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 will help prevent you getting the flu. It won’t stop all flu viruses and the level of protection may vary, 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.
There is also evidence to suggest that the flu jab can reduce your risk of having a stroke.
Over time, protection from the injected flu vaccine gradually decreases and flu strains often change. So new flu vaccines are produced each year which is why people advised to have the flu jab need it every year too.
Read more about how the flu jab works.
Flu jab side effects
Serious side effects of the injected flu vaccine are very rare. You may have a mild fever and aching muscles for a couple of days after having the jab, and your arm may be a bit sore where you were injected.
Read more about the side effects of the flu jab.
When to have a flu jab
The best time to have a flu vaccine is in the autumn, from the beginning of October to early November, but don’t worry if you’ve missed it, you can have the vaccine later in winter. Ask your GP or pharmacist.
The flu jab for 2017/18
Each year, the viruses that are most likely to cause flu are identified in advance and vaccines are made to match them as closely as possible. The vaccines are recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Most injected flu vaccines protect against three types of flu virus:
- A/H1N1 – the strain of flu that caused the swine flu pandemic in 2009
- A/H3N2 – a strain of flu that mainly affects the elderly and people with risk factors like a long term health condition. In 2017/18 the vaccine will contain an A/Hong Kong/4801/2014 H3N2-like virus
- Influenza B – a strain of flu that particularly affects children. In 2017/18 the vaccine will contain B/Brisbane/60/2008-like virus
The nasal spray flu vaccine and some injected vaccines also offer protection against a fourth B strain of virus, which in 2017/18 is the B/Phuket/3073/2013-like virus.
Is there anyone who shouldn’t have the flu jab?
Most adults can have the injected flu vaccine, but you should avoid it if you have had a serious allergic reaction to a flu jab in the past.
Read more about who shouldn’t have the flu vaccine.
You can find out more by reading the answers to the most common questions that people have about the flu vaccine.
Page last reviewed: 12/07/2016
Next review due: 12/07/2019