If you're 65 and over, it's vital that you have your seasonal flu vaccination. Flu is not simply a bad cold – and it can increase your risk of more serious illness. Even if the weather's mild, flu is in season throughout winter. Getting the flu jab will help protect you at the time of the year when you are most vulnerable.
Why should I have the flu jab?
As we age, our immune system becomes weaker and less able to fight off viruses. Even fit and healthy older people are more vulnerable to catching the flu, and at a greater risk of having serious complications from the flu compared to when they were younger. These complications could include developing bronchitis or pneumonia. Catching flu can also make some existing conditions worse.
Even if it's a mild winter, flu is in season. So it's important to have an annual flu jab if you're aged 65 or over. And if you care for someone who is 65 or over, or eligible for the flu vaccine for another reason, you can also get the flu vaccine for free. This helps protect you and the person you care for.
Who can have a free flu jab?
The NHS provides a free flu jab if:
- you're aged 65 and over
- you have certain health conditions such as a heart problem, a chronic breathing problem, diabetes, chronic kidney/liver disease, Parkinson's disease or motor neurone disease.
- you've had a stroke or mini-stroke
- you have a weakened immune system
- you care for an older person who may be put at risk if you fall ill
- you are a healthcare worker in the NHS (your employer will provide the jab for you)
- you are a frontline care worker, including people who work in domiciliary care and care homes.
The Government has announced that this winter additional groups will be able to get the free flu jab:
People who are on the Shielded Patient List and members of their household.
People aged 50-64 – this age group will become eligible at some point during Autumn, they will not be eligible at the start of the flu vaccination programme. This is to ensure that the most vulnerable groups can have the flu jab first.
Speak to your GP or pharmacist if you think you could be eligible.
Carers and care workers should get the flu vaccine to reduce the risk of spreading the flu - and can get it for free from their GP or a pharmacy.
When should I have the flu jab?
Most surgeries and pharmacists start to offer the jab in late September or early October. It takes up to 14 days for the vaccine to take effect, so it's best to have it as early as possible.
But the flu season lasts until the end of March, so it's well worth protecting yourself up until then.
I had a seasonal flu jab last year. Do I need one this year?
Flu is a highly infectious disease caused by viruses that are always changing.
You need a flu jab every year because a new vaccine is produced to target those viruses most likely to be in circulation during the coming winter.
Where do I go for my flu jab?
You can have your flu jab at:
- your GP surgery
- a local pharmacy offering the service.
Do I need the pneumo jab?
The ‘pneumo’ (or pneumococcal) jab is a one-off jab that helps protect you against pneumonia, meningitis and septicaemia (a type of blood poisoning).
Ask your GP about it if you’re aged 65 and over and haven’t had one.
Julie Banks speaks to Sheelagh Donovan from Age UK to find out more about flu jabs for this winter.
How can I avoid catching the flu?
You can still catch flu even if you have had the flu jab, but if you do catch it you'll probably have milder symptoms than if you hadn’t been vaccinated.
Take these precautions to reduce your risk of catching flu:
- Have the flu vaccination.
- Eat a healthy diet, take regular exercise and drink plenty of warm drinks in the winter months.
- Wash your hands regularly with soap and warm water, particularly after using the toilet, gardening, petting animals and before eating.
How will my body react to the flu jab?
After the flu jab some people may experience a mild fever, muscle aches, and a sore arm. These are generally nothing to worry about and will go away after a few days.
For a vast majority of people, the flu vaccine is safe and is the most effective way to protect yourself against the flu. If you are in any doubt, discuss your concerns with your doctor to help you to reach an informed decision.
Serious reactions are very rare and in the event of an allergic reaction your doctor or pharmacist would be on hand should it occur.
If you are still worried you can have a look at NHS advice on symptoms and side effects, and read about when it might be a good idea to speak to your doctor before getting the jab.
Can the flu jab make me ill?
The flu vaccine can take up to two weeks to become fully effective, so during this time it's still possible to catch the flu.
It is also possible to catch the flu before you get the jab, but not be aware of it. It can then look like the flu jab has given you the flu, but you may actually have been carrying the virus already. The injected flu vaccine given to older adults cannot give you flu as it does not contain live viruses.
And remember – the flu vaccine only protects against flu, not colds and other illnesses, so it is a good idea to take precautions such as washing your hands regularly, to keep yourself as well as possible during winter.