The flu vaccine: what you need to know

The flu vaccine: what you need to know


To protect adults and children alike from the risk of flu and its complications, flu vaccinations are available through the NHS. For most healthy people it will usually clear up within a week, albeit a fairly unpleasant week.

But for some people it can be more severe. These include anyone over the age of 65, pregnant women, and both children and adults with underlying health conditions (including heart or respiratory diseases) or weakened immune systems. Anyone in these groups faces a greater risk of more serious complications of flu such as pneumonia and so it is recommended that they have a flu vaccine annually to protect them.

This is the best time of year to have the vaccine; between the beginning of October and the end of November. But if you miss it, you can still have the vaccine later in the winter.

You can have your vaccine at your local GP surgery, a local pharmacy that offers it, or your midwifery service if it offers it. Some local pharmacies now offer flu vaccination to adults (though not children) who may be at risk of flu. This includes pregnant women, people aged 65 and over, people with long-term health conditions and carers. Your pharmacist, in this case, will inform your GP.

The vaccine is the best available protection against the flu. Studies have shown that it will help prevent you from getting the flu, though it is not a 100 per cent guarantee. If you do catch a flu after being vaccinated, it is likely to be much milder and shorter lived than it would have otherwise been. Some evidence has also suggested that it can reduce the likelihood of getting a stroke.

Over time the protection offered by the vaccine will gradually decrease. That combined with changing flu strains is the reason that new vaccines are produced annually and people are advised to have the vaccine every year as well.

Despite what you may have heard, serious side effects are very rare. You may experience a mild fever and your muscles may ache for a few days. You may also feel sore where you were injected. If you take a nasal spray, side effects include a runny or blocked nose, headache, tiredness, and loss of appetite.

There are some people that are advised not to have the vaccine. People with an egg allergy may be at an increased risk of a reaction since some flu vaccines are made using eggs. Egg-free vaccines are becoming increasingly available and your GP might be able to locate a suitable one for you. If your allergy is very severe your GP may refer you to a specialist at a hospital. If you are ill with a fever it is recommended that you delay the shot until the fever clears. If you have a minor illness with no fever such as a cold there is no need to delay.

For more information speak to your GP or pharmacist.

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