Flu is a highly infectious illness caused by the flu virus. It spreads rapidly through small droplets coughed or sneezed into the air by an infected person. Some people are at greater risk of developing serious complications of flu, such as bronchitis and pneumonia. The flu vaccination is offered to people in at-risk groups.
Flu vaccination by injection, commonly known as the "flu jab" is available every year on the NHS to protect adults (and some 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, such as:
Anyone in these risk groups is more likely to develop potentially serious complications of flu, such as pneumonia (a lung infection), so it's recommended that they have a flu vaccine every year to protect them.
The flu vaccine is given free on the NHS as an annual injection to:
Find out more about who should have the flu jab.
CHILDHOOD FLU - NASAL SPRAY
The flu vaccine is routinely given on the NHS as an annual nasal spray to:
Who will give the children's flu vaccination?
- Children aged two and three will be given the vaccination at their general practice, usually by the practice nurse. Those aged two and three years old on 31 August 2017 (but not four years) are eligible for flu vaccination in general practice
- Children in reception class and school years 1, 2, 3 and 4 (those aged 4yrs-8yrs on 31 August 2017) are eligible for flu vaccination in school
Children who are home educated will also be offered the vaccine, provided they are in an eligible school age group. Parents can obtain information about arrangements from their local NHS England Public Health Commissioning team.
Children at higher risk from flu
Children aged 2 to 17 with long-term health conditions such as diabetes are at higher risk from flu.
It's especially important that they are vaccinated with the annual flu nasal spray instead of the annual flu jab, which they were previously given.
Children between the ages of six months and two years who are at high risk from flu are offered the annual flu jab, usually at their GP surgery.
Read more about the flu nasal spray for children.
You can have your NHS flu jab at:
Some community pharmacies now offer flu vaccination to adults (but not children) at risk of flu including pregnant women, people aged 65 and over, people with long-term health conditions and carers.
How effective is the flu jab?
Flu vaccine is the best protection we have against an unpredictable virus that can cause unpleasant illness in children and severe illness and death among at-risk groups, including older people, pregnant women and those with an underlying medical health condition.
Studies have shown that the flu jab does work and will help prevent you getting the flu. It won't stop all flu viruses and the level of protection may vary between people, 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.
There is also evidence to suggest that the flu jab can reduce your risk of having a stroke.
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 jab need it every year too.
Read more about how the flu jab works.
Flu jab side effects
Serious side effects of the injected flu vaccine are very rare. You may have a slight temperature and aching muscles for a couple of days after having the jab, and your arm may be a bit sore where you were injected.
Read more about the side effects of the flu jab.
When to have a flu jab
The best time to have a flu vaccine is in the autumn, from the beginning of October to early November, but don't worry if you've missed it, you can have the vaccine later in winter if there are stocks left. Ask your GP or pharmacist.
Each year, the viruses that are most likely to cause flu are identified in advance and vaccines are made to match them as closely as possible. The vaccines are recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Is there anyone who shouldn't have the flu jab?
Most adults can have the injected flu vaccine, but you should avoid it if you have had a serious allergic reaction to a flu jab in the past.
Read more about who shouldn't have the flu vaccine.
You can find out more by reading the answers to the most common questions that people have about the flu vaccine.
NHS Choices website information