Flu is an unpredictable virus that can be unpleasant, but if you're otherwise healthy it'll usually clear up on its own in about a week.
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.
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 old or over
- are pregnant
- have certain medical conditions
- are living in a long-stay residential care home or another long-stay care facility
- receive a carer's allowance, or you're the main carer for an elderly or disabled person whose welfare may be at risk if you fall ill
- live with someone who's at high risk of coronavirus (on the NHS shielded patient list) or you expect to be with them on most days over winter
Later in the year, the flu vaccine may be given to 50-64-year-olds. More information will be available later in the autumn.
However, if you are aged 50-64 in an at-risk group, you should not delay having your flu 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 years on 31 August 2020 (that is, born between 1 September 2016 and 31 August 2018)
- children in primary school
- children in year 7 (secondary school)
Children aged between 6 months and 2 years 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 nasal spray flu vaccine.
65s and over and the flu vaccine
You're eligible for the flu vaccine this year (2020 to 2021) if you're aged 65 and over on 31 March 2021 (that is, you were born on or before 31 March 1956).
So if you're currently 64 but will be 65 on 31 March 2021, you do qualify.
It's important that you benefit from having the most effective vaccine.
For those aged 65 and over you'll usually be offered the adjuvanted trivalent vaccine. This vaccine contains an adjuvant that helps the immune system make a stronger response to the vaccine.
Pregnant women and the flu vaccine
If you're pregnant, you're advised to have the injected flu vaccine, regardless of the stage of pregnancy you have 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'll 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'll help protect your baby, as they'll continue to have some immunity to flu for the first few months after their birth
It's safe to have the flu vaccine at any stage of pregnancy from conception onwards.