The 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, including:
- Anyone aged 65 and over
- People with weakened immune systems. This would include people on biologic therapies like anti TNF or anti IL 17A, on regular steroids or taking DMARDs such as methotrexate
Anyone in these risk groups is more likely to develop potentially serious complications such as pneumonia, so it’s recommended you have a flu vaccine every year for protection.
There isn’t a definitive list of conditions which are eligible for a free flu vaccine. It’s always an issue of clinical judgement. GPs are advised to 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.
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.
Where to get the flu vaccine
You can have your NHS flu vaccine at your GP surgery or a local pharmacy offering the service. 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?
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.
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.
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.
When to have your flu vaccine
The best time to have a flu vaccine is in the autumn, from the beginning of October to end of November.