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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 over the age of 65
- pregnant women
- children and adults with an underlying health condition (particularly long-term heart or respiratory disease)
- children and adults with weakened immune systems
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:
- adults over the age of 18 at risk of flu (including everyone over 65)
- children aged six months to two years at risk of flu
Find out more about who should have the flu jab.
Flu nasal spray vaccination
The flu vaccine is given as an annual nasal spray to:
- children aged two to 18 years at risk of flu
- healthy children aged two, three and four years years old
How the flu jab helps
Studies have shown that the flu jab definitely works 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.
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.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Having flu is just like having a heavy cold
A bad bout of flu is much worse than a heavy cold. Flu symptoms come on suddenly and sometimes severely. They include fever, chills, headaches and aching muscles, as well as a cough and sore throat. So, you’re likely to spend two or three days in bed. If you get complications caused by flu, you could become seriously ill and have to go to hospital.
- Having the flu vaccine gives you flu
No, it doesn’t.
The injected flu vaccine that is given to adults contains inactivated flu viruses, so it can’t give you flu. Your arm may feel a bit sore where you were injected, and some people get a slight temperature and aching muscles for a couple of days afterwards, but other reactions are very rare.
The children’s flu nasal spray vaccine contains live but weakened flu viruses that will not give your child flu.
- Flu can be treated with antibiotics
No, it can’t. Viruses cause flu and antibiotics only work against bacteria. You may be prescribed antiviral medicines to treat your flu. Antivirals do not cure flu but they can make you less infectious to others and can reduce the length of time that you may be ill. To be effective, antivirals have to be given within a day or two of your symptoms appearing.
A bacterial infection may occur as a result of having the flu, in which case you may be given antibiotics.
- Once you’ve had the flu vaccine, you’re protected for life
No, you aren’t. The viruses that cause flu can change every year, so you need a vaccination each year that matches the new viruses. The vaccine usually provides protection for the duration of the flu season that year.
- I’m pregnant, so I shouldn’t have the flu jab because it will affect my baby
You should have the vaccine whatever stage of pregnancy you are in. If you’re pregnant, you could get very ill if you get flu, which could also be bad for your baby. Having the jab can also protect your baby against flu after they’re born and during the early months of life.
- The flu jab won’t protect me against swine flu
Yes, it will. This year’s flu vaccine protects against three different flu viruses including the H1N1 swine flu virus . This is because the virus is expected to be circulating this year.
- Children can’t have the flu vaccine
Children over the age of six months who are “at risk” of serious illness if they catch flu are eligible for a flu vaccine on the NHS. The flu vaccine is given to children as a nasal spray.
Children at risk from flu include those with a pre-existing illness such as a respiratory or neurological condition, or children who are having treatment such as chemotherapy.
The nasal spray flu vaccine is also recommended on the NHS for all healthy two- and three-year-old children.
Eventually, the vaccination programme will be extended so that all children between the ages of six months and 16 years are able to have the flu vaccine.
- I’ve had the flu already this autumn, so I don’t need the vaccination this year
You do need it if you’re in one of the risk groups. As flu is caused by several viruses, you will only be protected by the immunity you developed naturally against one of them. You could go on to catch another strain, so it’s recommended you have the jab even if you’ve recently had flu. Also, what you thought was flu could have been something else.
- If I missed having the flu jab in October, it’s too late to have it later in the year
No, it’s not too late. It’s better to have the flu vaccine as soon as it becomes available, but it’s always worth getting vaccinated before flu comes around. Since we don’t know when flu will strike, the sooner you have the vaccine the better.
- Vitamin C can prevent flu
No, it can’t. Many people think that taking daily vitamin C supplements will stop them getting flu, but there’s no evidence to prove this.
Source: 10 myths about flu and the flu vaccine, NHS choice website
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