The flu jab is available every year on the NHS to help protect adults and children who are at risk of seasonal flu (influenza). It is a safe and effective vaccine.
If you’re otherwise healthy, the flu will usually clear up on its own within a week, but at worst, the flu can cause serious and potentially fatal complications, such as pneumonia. The flu can be more severe for certain people, including the elderly and pregnant women, who will be entitled to a free flu jab.
Anyone who wants to lower their risk of getting the flu should get a flu vaccination. The best time to get the flu vaccine is in Autumn before the flu starts spreading.
Flu jab and coronavirus
If you have already had COVID-19, you should still get the flu jab this year. It safe to do so, and will still be effective at preventing the flu.
If you are at higher risk of coronavirus, you are also at higher risk of complications caused by the flu. What’s more, research shows you are more likely to become seriously ill if you have the flu and COVID-19 at the same time.
Systems have been in place, such as social distancing and the use of PPE, to ensure it is still safe to get your flu jab at your local GP surgery or pharmacy as you usually would. However, you should not visit either if you are experiencing coronavirus symptoms.
Who is entitled to a free flu jab?
Flu vaccination is particularly important for people who are at increased risk of developing complications if they get flu.
The following groups of ‘at risk’ people are entitled to a free flu jab:
- People aged over 65 years of age (including if you will be 65 by 31 March 2021)
- People living in long-stay residential care homes
- Pregnant women
- People who receive a carer’s allowance, or are the main carer for an elderly or disabled person who is at risk of falling ill
- Anyone older than six months of age with an underlying health condition, such as diabetes, HIV infection, a weakened immune system, or long-term heart, kidney, liver, neurological or lung disease, including asthma.
Children aged 2 to 17 years are usually given the nasal spray flu vaccine, but if this isn’t suitable they’ll be offered the flu jab instead.
If you are a frontline health and social care worker, your employer should offer you a free flu jab. This may be done at the workplace.
It’s also a good idea to have the flu jab if you live with someone who has a weak immune system, if you’re a carer, and if you’re a health or social care worker involved in direct patient care.
In the 2020 NHS flu immunisation programme because of the impact of COVID-19, if you're aged 50 to 64 and have a health condition that means you're more at risk from flu, you should also get a flu vaccination as soon as possible and other 50- to 64-year-olds should be contacted about a flu vaccine later this year.
The best time to have the flu jab is from October to late November each year – before the start of the flu season.
What types of flu vaccine are there?
There are several types of flu vaccine being offered in 2020.
If you are eligible for a free flu jab on the NHS, you will be offered the one that is best suited to you, depending on your age:
A nasal spray flu vaccine is a live vaccine for children aged 2-17 that protects against four strains of flu (two of type A, which causes the worst epidemics, and two of type B, which most commonly affects children).
• Adults aged 18-64
There are different types of flu jabs offered for adults, including low-egg and egg-free ones. None of them contain live viruses, so these are called ‘inactivated vaccines’.
• Adults aged 65 and over
The most common flu jab for adults over 65 contains an extra ingredient to help your immune system make a stronger response to the vaccine.
Where can I get the flu jab?
People who fall into a risk group will be offered the flu vaccine for free at their GP or local pharmacy. Some midwives also offer this service.
If you can’t have the vaccine on the NHS you can still pay for it privately at some pharmacies, and some people may also be able to get it through their employer.
How does the flu jab work?
The flu jab contains inactivated extracts from different strains of the flu virus. It works by stimulating your immune system to produce antibodies against the flu virus. The antibodies stay in your body so that if you’re exposed to the flu virus naturally, your immune system can recognise it, attack it and prevent it from causing flu.
The flu virus is constantly changing its structure (mutating) and different strains become more or less common each year. Every year the World Health Organisation and the EU identify which strains are likely to be prevalent for that year’s flu season and new vaccines are produced to protect against these strains. This is why you need to have a flu vaccine every year. You’ll normally be protected against flu within two to three weeks after having the vaccine. The length of the protection varies, but usually lasts 6 to 12 months.
Key facts about the flu jab
If you are considering getting the flu jab or you or someone in your family is eligible for a free flu vaccine, here are some key facts to consider:
- Having a flu vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and your family from flu.
- The flu jab cannot give you flu.
- The most common side effects are mild muscle aches, headache, fatigue, fever and a sore arm. These get better in a couple of days.
- The flu jab is free on the NHS for people over 65, pregnant women, anyone at risk of flu complications, carers and healthcare workers.
- You can get it from your GP and some pharmacies.
- You need to have the flu vaccine every year.
Who should not have the flu jab?
The majority of people can have the flu jab, but if you’re ill with a fever, it’s best to postpone it until after you’ve recovered. You don’t need to postpone the vaccine for a minor illness like a cold.
The only other reasons to avoid having the vaccine are if you’ve had a serious allergic reaction to the flu vaccine in the past, or if you’re allergic to ingredients used in the manufacture of the vaccine. You’ll be asked about any allergies before you’re given the jab.
Some brands of the flu jab may not be suitable for people with a serious allergy to eggs or chicken protein. If this applies to you, make sure you tell the person giving you the vaccine, as there are brands of the flu vaccine that are safe for people with this type of allergy.
How is the flu jab given?
The flu jab is usually given as a single injection into the upper arm. Babies and young children who can’t have the nasal spray will be given the injection in their thigh.
If your child is under nine years of age and hasn't had a flu vaccine before they’ll need a second dose of the flu jab at least four weeks after their first one. Children who’ve previously had a flu vaccine only need one dose.
Flu jab side-effects
The flu jab is generally well tolerated and any side-effects are usually mild and improve in a couple of days. The injected flu vaccine doesn’t contain live virus and can’t give you flu.
Common flu jab side-effects include the following:
- Aching muscles or joints
- Feeling generally unwell
- Pain, swelling, redness, bruising or at the injection site
Flu vaccines only protect against flu caused by strains of the influenza virus that are closely related to those found in the vaccine. The jab can’t prevent flu caused by strains that are not in the vaccine, or flu-like illnesses caused by other germs.
These reactions are due to the immune system responding to the vaccine and are not flu. They usually get better on their own within one to two days, but if you feel uncomfortable you can bring down a fever and ease aches and pains with paracetamol.
Allergic reactions to vaccines are extremely rare and anyone who is trained to administer vaccines is also trained in how to deal with them. Recovery is complete with treatment.
Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist if you want any more information about the possible side effects of the flu vaccine. yellow card website?
Flu jab interactions
You can have the flu jab at the same time as other vaccines, but if so, the vaccines should be given into separate limbs.
You can have the flu vaccine if you're taking any medicines, but just make sure the person giving you the jab knows what you're taking.
If you're taking a medicine that reduces the activity of your immune system, for example high-dose corticosteroids or immunosuppressant medicines, your body might not produce enough antibodies in response to the flu jab and you might need an extra dose. You should discuss this with your doctor.
Last updated: 29-09-20
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