The flu vaccination

Flu jab
Royal Voluntary Service and the NHS work together to encourage people to get flu safe with a flu jab from their GP or pharmacist.

Flu is a highly contagious infection that anyone can catch, and it can be serious for some. Its especially important that people at increased risk including those aged 65 or over, pregnant women, and those with health conditions have their free vaccination every year.

We hope that people with concerns about flu, carers and families, find this guide useful. Download a copy of The flu vaccination, print this page to give to someone you know or use the share button on the right.

For more information, speak to your GP or local pharmacist, or visit

What is flu? Isn’t it just a heavy cold?

Flu occurs every year, usually in the winter, which is why it’s sometimes called seasonal flu. It’s a highly infectious disease with symptoms that come on very quickly. Colds are much less serious and usually start gradually with a stuffy or runny nose and a sore throat. A bad bout of flu can be much worse than a heavy cold.

The most common symptoms of flu are fever, chills, headache, aches and pains in the joints and muscles, and extreme tiredness. Healthy individuals usually recover within two to seven days, but for some the disease can lead to hospitalisation, permanent disability or even death.

How do you catch flu?

When an infected person coughs or sneezes, they spread the flu virus in tiny droplets of saliva over a wide area. These droplets can then be breathed in by other people or they can be picked up by touching surfaces where the droplets have landed. You can prevent the spread of the virus by covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, and you can wash your hands frequently or use hand gels to reduce the risk of picking up the virus.

But the best way to avoid catching and spreading flu is by having the vaccination before the flu season starts.

How do we protect against flu?

Flu is unpredictable. The vaccine provides the best protection available against a virus that can cause severe illness. The most likely viruses that will cause flu are identified in advance of the flu season and vaccines are then made to match them as closely as possible.

The vaccines are given in the autumn ideally before flu starts circulating. During the last ten years the vaccine has generally been a good match for the circulating strains.

Am I at increased risk from the effects of flu?

Flu can affect anyone but if you have a long-term health condition the effects of flu can make it worse even if the condition is well managed and you normally feel well. You should have the free flu vaccine if you are:
  • pregnant
or have a long term condition such as:
  • a heart problem
  • a chest complaint or breathing difficulties, including bronchitis,
  • emphysema or severe asthma
  • a kidney disease
  • lowered immunity due to disease or treatment (such as steroid medication or cancer treatment)
  • liver disease
  • had a stroke or a transient ischaemic attack (TIA)
  • diabetes
  • a neurological condition, eg multiple sclerosis (MS), cerebral palsy or learning disability
  • a problem with your spleen, eg sickle cell disease, or you have
  • had your spleen removed
  • are seriously overweight (BMI of 40 and 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.

Who should consider having a flu vaccination?

All those who have any condition listed above, or who are:
  • aged 65 years or over
  • living in a residential or nursing home
  • the main carer of an older or disabled person
  • a household contact of an immunocompromised person
  • a frontline health or social care worker
  • pregnant
  • children of a certain age

What do I need to do now?

If you belong to one of the groups mentioned in this leaflet, it’simportant that you have your flu vaccination.

Speak to your GP or practice nurse, or alternatively your local pharmacist, to book a vaccination appointment and get the best possible protection. For pregnant women, the vaccine may also be available through maternity services. The flu vaccine is free. So make an appointment to receive the vaccine.

Organisations wishing to protect their employees against flu (unless they are at risk) will need to make arrangements for the vaccinations to be given through their occupational health departments. These vaccinations are not available on the NHS and will have to be paid for by the employer.

If you are a frontline health or social care worker, find out what arrangements have been made at your workplace for providing flu vaccination. It’s important that you get protected.

    Summary of those who are recommended to have the flu vaccine

    • everyone aged 65 and over
    • everyone under 65 years of age who has a medical condition, including children and babies over six months of age
    • all pregnant women, at any stage of pregnancy
    • all two- and three- year-old children (provided they were aged two or three years old on 31 August of the current flu season)
    • all children in primary school
    • everyone living in a residential or nursing home
    • everyone who cares for an older or disabled person
    • household contacts of anyone who is immunocompromised
    • all frontline health and social care workers
    For advice and information about the flu vaccination, speak to your GP, practice nurse or pharmacist.

    Download The Flu Vaccination
    Download The flu vaccination to give to someone you know.

    For more information about staying safe, healthy and warm this winter, see our guide preparing for severe wintry conditions and managing minor winter ailments.

    Please exercise your common sense when considering this guide and whether to take any of the steps that may be suggested in it. Whilst we have taken reasonable care to ensure that any factual information is accurate and complete, most of the information in this guide is based on our views and opinions (and sometimes the views and opinions of the people or organisations we work with). As a result, we cannot make any promises about the accuracy or the completeness of the information and we don’t accept any responsibility for the results of your reliance on it.

    Get ready for winter

    From staying safe, to staying in touch and warding off illness, our guide has a lot of useful tips for staying warm, safe and well this winter.

    Download a copy 

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