What is the flu (influenza)?
Flu is a contagious respiratory illness that infects the nose, throat and sometimes the lungs. It can cause mild to severe symptoms, which often come on suddenly. For some people, the flu can be dangerous and even life-threatening. Therefore the NHS offers a free flu vaccine to those most at risk.
Who can have the flu vaccine?
The flue vaccine is free on the NHS to adults who:
- are 65 and over
- have certain health conditions
- are pregnant
- are in long-term residential care
- receive a carer's allowance, or are the primary carer for an older or disabled person
- live with someone more likely to be seriously ill due to a weakened immune system.
- are a health worker
- are a social care worker who cannot get the vaccine through their employer
From 14 October, people aged 50 years or over can also have a free NHS flu vaccine
Flu and coronavirus
As a result of the pandemic, fewer people have a natural immunity to the flu, so more people will likely catch it this year. If you get the flu and COVID-19 simultaneously, you are more likely to be seriously ill. It’s therefore important to get your flu and COVID-19 vaccines if you’re eligible.
How can you get a flu vaccine?
It is best to have your flu vaccine in the autumn or early winter before flu rates increase.
You can get an NHS flu vaccine at:
- Your GP surgery.
- A local pharmacy offering NHS flu vaccines.
- Some maternity services if you’re pregnant.
- Sometimes at a hospital.
If you’re eligible for a free NHS flu vaccine, you can book an appointment at your GP surgery or a pharmacy that offers it. You might also receive an invitation to get vaccinated, but you do not need to wait for one.
You do not need to be registered with a GP or have an NHS number to get a vaccine. You may be asked to confirm why you are eligible for the flu vaccine. No immigration checks will be carried out when you receive the vaccine.
Is the flu vaccine safe?
Yes, the flu vaccine is safe and effective. It will not give you the flu, although you might get mild side effects such as headaches or aching muscles. Only one in a million people get severe side effects.
Can you get the flu vaccine if you’re pregnant?
The flu vaccine helps protect you and your baby from a severe illness. It’s safe to have a flu vaccine at any stage of pregnancy.
If you are pregnant and think you have the flu, you should talk to your GP urgently so they can prescribe you medication that can help.
Can I get a flu vaccine if I have a long-term or chronic condition?
Yes, the NHS flu vaccine is offered to anyone with a serious long-term health condition. This includes:
- Respiratory conditions like asthma
- Heart conditions
- Being overweight (having a BMI of 40 or above)
- Chronic kidney disease
- Liver disease
- Some neurological conditions like Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis (MS)
- A learning disability
- Problems with your spleen or if you’ve had your spleen removed
- A weakened immune system as a result of conditions like HIV and AIDS or from taking medicines such as chemotherapy.
Talk to your GP if you have a long-term condition that is not in one of these groups or are unsure if you are eligible. If they think you are at risk of serious illness if you get the flu, you should be offered a free vaccine.
Do I need to get the flu vaccine every year?
Yes, because the flu virus changes each winter. To ensure you are protected against new strains, the flu vaccine is updated annually. The NHS, therefore, recommends you get vaccinated again this year, even if you were vaccinated last year.
Do I need to get the vaccine if I’ve already had the flu?
Yes, the vaccine will still protect you. Other viruses can give you similar flu-like symptoms, or you may have had a different type of flu virus.
Can anyone not have the flu vaccine?
You should avoid the flu vaccine if you have previously had a severe allergic reaction to a flu vaccine.
If you have an egg allergy, you may also be at risk of an allergic reaction to the flu vaccine. You can ask your healthcare professional for a low-egg or egg-free vaccine.
If you have a condition that weakens your immune system, you also might not be able to have certain times of flu vaccine, so check with your doctor.