branch graphic

Flu vaccination

Flu

The flu vaccine is available on the NHS for adults and children who are considered "at risk". These groups include:

  • 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

More information about the flu jab is available on the NHS Choices website. You can also find out which adults should have the flu vaccine and which children can have the flu vaccine.

There are a lot of myths about flu and the flu vaccination that are putting people off getting the jab. Here are 10 common myths and the truth behind them. 

1. 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. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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 reduce the length of time 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. Children can't have the flu vaccine

Children over the age of six months who are "at risk" of serious illness if they catch the flu are eligible for a flu vaccine on the NHS. The flu vaccine is generally given to children aged 6 months to 2 years as an injection, and as a nasal spray for children aged 2 to 18 years.

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, three and four-year-old children.

Eventually, the vaccination programme will be extended so that all children aged from 6 months to 16 years are able to have the flu vaccine.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. 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.

Read the answers to some common questions about flu and the flu vaccine.

Information has been provided by NHS Choices.