Flu is an unpredictable virus that can cause mild or unpleasant illness in most people.
It can cause severe illness and even death among vulnerable groups including older people, pregnant women and people with an underlying health condition.
For otherwise healthy people, flu can be very unpleasant. Most people will recover from flu within a week or two.
People who should have a flu jab
The injected flu vaccine is offered free of charge on the NHS to people who are at risk. This is to ensure they are protected against catching flu and developing serious complications.
You are eligible to receive a free flu jab if you:
- are 65 years of age 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
Front-line 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.
65s and over and the flu jab
You are eligible for the flu vaccine this year (2017-18) if you are 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.
Pregnant women and the flu jab
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 birth weight because of the 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.
Read more about the flu jab in pregnancy.
Flu jab 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 or multiple sclerosis (MS)
- 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 one 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 or pharmacist about this.
Flu vaccine for children
The flu vaccine is free on the NHS for:
- children over the age of six months with a long-term health condition
- children aged two and three on 31 August 2017 – that is, born between 1 September 2013 and 31 August 2015
- children in reception class and school years one, two, three and four
Children aged between six months and two years of age who are eligible for the flu vaccine should have the flu jab.
Children eligible for the flu vaccine aged between two and 17 will usually have the flu vaccine nasal spray.
Flu jab 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 front-line health and social care worker, you are eligible for an NHS flu jab to protect yourself, your colleagues and other members of the community.
It is your employer's responsibility to arrange vaccination for you. So, if you are an NHS-employed front-line healthcare worker, the NHS will pay for your vaccination. If you are a social care worker, your employer should pay for vaccination.
In the case of health and social care workers employed by private companies, those companies will arrange and pay for the vaccinations.
The NHS has this advice on flu vaccination of health and social care workers (PDF, 223kb).
Flu jab 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 jab along with the person you care for.
Read more about the flu jab for carers on the Carers UK website.