Flu is an unpredictable virus that and can be unpleasant, but if you are otherwise healthy it will usually clear up on its own within a week.
It can cause severe illness and even death among vulnerable groups including older people, pregnant women and people with an underlying health condition.
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 vaccine each year.
For otherwise healthy people flu can be very unpleasant, however most people will recover from flu within a week or 2.
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 help protect them against catching flu and developing serious complications.
You should have the flu vaccine if you:
- are 65 years old or over
- are pregnant
- have certain medical conditions
- 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
Frontline health and social care workers are also eligible to receive the flu vaccine. It is your employer's responsibility to arrange and pay for this vaccine.
You may also be able to have the flu vaccine at your GP surgery or a local pharmacy offering the service if you're a frontline health or social care worker employed by a:
- registered residential care/nursing home
- registered homecare organisation
Flu vaccine for children
The flu vaccine is free on the NHS for:
- children over the age of 6 months with a long-term health condition
- children aged 2 and 3 years on 31 August 2019 – that is, born between 1 1 September 2015 and 31 August 2017
- children in primary school
Children aged between 6 months and 2 years who are eligible for the flu vaccine will receive an injected flu vaccine.
Children eligible for the flu vaccine aged between 2 and 17 will usually have the flu vaccine nasal spray.
65s and over and the flu vaccine
You are eligible for the flu vaccine this year (2019/20) if you are aged 65 and over on 31 March 2020 – that is, you were born on or before 31 March 1955. So, if you are currently 64 but will be 65 on 31 March 2020, you do qualify.
It's important that you benefit from having the most effective vaccine and for those aged 65 and over, this is either the adjuvanted trivalent vaccine or the cell-grown quadrivalent vaccine.
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 birthweight because of 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. Talk to your GP, midwife or pharmacist if you want more information.
Flu vaccine for people with medical conditions
The injected flu vaccine is offered free of charge on the NHS to anyone with a serious long-term health condition, including:
- 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), emphysema 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, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), learning disability or cerebral palsy
- 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
- being seriously overweight (BMI of 40 or above)
This list of conditions isn't definitive. It's always an issue of clinical judgement.
Your GP can assess you to take into account the risk of flu making any underlying illness you may have worse, as well as your risk of serious illness from flu itself.
The vaccine should always be offered in such cases, even if you are not technically in 1 of the risk groups above.
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 about this.
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 frontline health and social care worker, you're eligible for an NHS flu vaccine.
It is your employer's responsibility to arrange vaccination for you. Find out what arrangements have been made at your workplace for providing flu vaccination.
If you are an NHS-employed frontline healthcare worker, the NHS will pay for your vaccination.
You may be able to have the flu vaccine at your GP surgery or local pharmacy offering the service if your employer does not offer a flu vaccination programme and you're a frontline health or social care worker employed by a:
- registered residential care/nursing home
- registererd homecare organisation
The flu vaccine will help protect you, your colleagues and the patients and residents you care for.
Flu vaccine for carers
If you are the main carer for someone who is elderly or disabled, speak to your GP or pharmacist about having a flu vaccine along with the person you care for.
Types of flu vaccine available
There are several types of flu vaccine. You will be offered 1 that is most effective for you, depending upon your age:
- children aged 2 to 17 in an eligible group are offered a live attenuated quadrivalent vaccine (LAIV), given as a nasal spray
- adults aged 18 to 64 who are either pregnant, at increased risk from flu because of a long-term health condition, or a frontline health or social care worker are offered a quadrivalent injected vaccine. The vaccine offered will have been grown either in eggs or cells (QIVe or QIVc) – both of which are considered to be equally suitable
- adults aged 65 and over will be offered either an adjuvanted trivalent injected vaccine grown in eggs (aTIV) or a cell-grown quadrivalent injected vaccine (QIVc). Both vaccines are considered to be equally suitable
If your child is aged between 6 months and 2 years 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.