VaccinationsThe flu vaccine
Flu vaccination is available every year on the NHS to help protect adults and children at risk of 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 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 help protect them.
Who should get the flu vaccine?
The flu vaccine is routinely given on the NHS to:
- adults 65 and over
- people with certain medical conditions (including children in at-risk groups from 6 months of age)
- pregnant women
- children aged 2 and 3 (on August 31 2018)
- children in reception class and school years 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5
For 2018, there are 3 types of flu vaccine:
- a live quadrivalent vaccine (which protects against 4 strains of flu), given as a nasal spray – this is for children and young people aged 2 to 17 years eligible for the flu vaccine
- a quadrivalent injected vaccine – this is for adults aged 18 and over but below the age of 65 who are at increased risk from flu because of a long-term health condition and for children 6 months and above in an eligible group who cannot receive the live vaccine
- an adjuvanted trivalent injected vaccine – this is for people aged 65 and over as it has been shown to be more effective in this age group
If your child is aged between 6 months and 2 years old and is in a high-risk group for flu, they will be offered an injected flu vaccine as the nasal spray is not licensed for children under 2.
Talk to your GP, practice nurse or pharmacist for more information about these vaccines.
Find out more about who should have the flu vaccine.
65 and overs and the flu vaccine
You are eligible for the flu vaccine this year (2018/19) if you will be aged 65 and over on March 31 2019 – that is, you were born on or before March 31 1954. So, if you are currently 64 but will be 65 on March 31 2019, you do qualify.
It's important that you benefit from having the most effective vaccine and for those aged 65 and over, this is the newly available adjuvanted trivalent vaccine.
This year, deliveries of the vaccine are being made in phases, so you may have to wait until your GP surgery or pharmacy receives their next delivery of the vaccine.
Read more information about the flu vaccine for 65s and over (PDF, 225kb)
Where to get the flu vaccine
You can have your NHS flu vaccine 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 vaccine 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 vaccine?
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 vaccine 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 vaccine 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 vaccine need it every year too.
Read more about how the flu vaccine works.
Flu vaccine 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 vaccine, and your arm may be a bit sore where you were injected.
Side effects of the nasal spray vaccine may commonly include a runny or blocked nose, headache, tiredness and some loss of appetite.
Read more about the side effects of the flu vaccine.
How safe is the flu vaccine?
The flu vaccines used in the national programme have a good safety record.
When to have a flu vaccine
The best time to have a flu vaccine is in the autumn, from the beginning of October to end of 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 vaccine for 2018/19
Each year, the viruses that are most likely to cause flu are identified in advance and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends which type of flu virus strains to include in the vaccine.
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.
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: 13/03/2016
Next review due: 13/03/2019