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Who should have the flu vaccine?
Flu is an unpredictable virus that can cause mild 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.
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 two.
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 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
- 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.
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 on August 31 2018 – that is, born between September 1 2014 and August 31 2016
- children in reception class and school years 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5
- Children aged between 6 months and 2 years of age 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 (2018/19) if you are aged 65 and over on March 31 2019 – that is, you were born on or before March 31 1954. So, if you are currently 64 but will be 65 on March 31 2019, you do qualify.
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.
Read more about the flu vaccine in pregnancy.
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 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 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 are eligible for an NHS flu vaccine 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 frontline 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.
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.
Read more about the flu vaccine for carers on the Carers UK website.
Types of flu vaccine available
This year (2018) there are 3 different types of flu vaccine:
- a live quadrivalent vaccine (which protects against 4 strains of flu), given as a nasal spray. This is for children and young people aged 2 to 17 years eligible for the flu vaccine
- a quadrivalent injected vaccine. This is for adults aged 18 and over but below the age of 65 who are at increased risk from flu because of a long-term health condition and for children 6 months and above in an eligible group who cannot receive the live vaccine
- an adjuvanted trivalent injected vaccine. This is for people aged 65 and over as it has been shown to be more effective in this age group
- If your child is aged between 6 months and 2 years old 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.