Flu vaccination by injection, commonly known as the "flu jab" is available every year on the NHS to protect adults (and some children) at risk of flu and its complications.
Flu can be unpleasant, but if you are otherwise healthy it will usually clear up on its own within a week.
However, flu can be more severe in certain people, such as:
- anyone aged 65 and over
- pregnant women
- children and adults with an underlying health condition (particularly long-term heart or respiratory disease
- children and adults with weakened immune systems
Anyone in these risk groups is more likely to develop potentially serious complications of flu, such as pneumonia (a lung infection), so it's recommended that they have a flu vaccine every year to protect them.
The flu vaccine is given free on the NHS as an annual injection to:
- adults over the age of 18 at risk of flu (including everyone aged 65 and over)
- children aged six months to two years at risk of flu
Find out more about who should have the flu jab.
Flu nasal spray vaccination
The flu vaccine is routinely given on the NHS as an annual nasal spray to:
- healthy children aged two, three and four years old plus children in school years one and two.
- children aged two to 17 years at a particular risk of flu
Read more about the flu nasal spray for children.
Where to get the flu jab
You can have your NHS flu jab at:
- Your GP surgery
- A local pharmacy offering the service
Some community pharmacies now offer flu vaccination to adults (but not children) at risk of flu including pregnant women, people aged 65 and over, people with long-term health conditions and carers.
If you have your flu jab at a pharmacy, you don't have to inform your GP – it is up to the pharmacist to do that.
How effective is the flu jab?
Flu vaccine is the best protection we have against an unpredictable virus that can cause unpleasant illness in children and severe illness and death among at-risk groups, including older people, pregnant women and those with an underlying medical health condition.
Studies have shown that the flu jab does work and will help prevent you getting the flu. It won't stop all flu viruses and the level of protection may vary between people, so it's not a 100% guarantee that you'll be flu-free, but if you do get flu after vaccination it's likely to be milder and shorter-lived than it would otherwise have been.
There is also evidence to suggest that the flu jab can reduce your risk of having a stroke.
Over time, protection from the injected flu vaccine gradually decreases and flu strains often change. So new flu vaccines are produced each year which is why people advised to have the flu jab need it every year too.
Read more about how the flu jab works.
Flu jab side effects
Serious side effects of the injected flu vaccine are very rare. You may have a slight temperature and aching muscles for a couple of days after having the jab, and your arm may be a bit sore where you were injected.
Read more about the side effects of the flu jab.
When to have a flu jab
The best time to have a flu vaccine is in the autumn, from the beginning of October to early November, but don't worry if you've missed it, you can have the vaccine later in winter if there are stocks left. Ask your GP or pharmacist.
The flu jab for 2017/18
Each year, the viruses that are most likely to cause flu are identified in advance and vaccines are made to match them as closely as possible. The vaccines are recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Most injected flu vaccines protect against three types of flu virus:
- A/H1N1 – the strain of flu that caused the swine flu pandemic in 200
- A/H3N2 – a strain of flu that mainly affects the elderly and people with risk factors like a long term health condition. In 2017/18 the vaccine will contain an A/Hong Kong/4801/2014 H3N2-like viru
- Influenza B – a strain of flu that particularly affects children. In 2017/18 the vaccine will contain B/Brisbane/60/2008-like virus
The nasal spray flu vaccine and some injected vaccines also offer protection against a fourth B strain of virus, which in 2017/18 is the B/Phuket/3073/2013-like virus.
Is there anyone who shouldn't have the flu jab?
Most adults can have the injected flu vaccine, but you should avoid it if you have had a serious allergic reaction to a flu jab in the past.
Read more about who shouldn't have the flu vaccine.
You can find out more by reading the answers to the most common questions that people have about the flu vaccine.
Flu is a highly infectious illness caused by the flu virus. It spreads rapidly through small droplets coughed or sneezed into the air by an infected person. Some people are at greater risk of developing serious complications of flu, such as bronchitis and pneumonia. The flu vaccination is offered to people in at-risk groups.
To download an information booklet on the Flu vaccine please click here (EXTERNAL LINK)
Men B vaccine
A new vaccine to prevent Meningitis is being offered to babies as part of the routine NHS childhood vaccination programme.
The Men B vaccine is recommended for babies aged 2 months, followed by a second dose at 4 months, and a booster at 12 months.
There is also a temporary catch-up programme for babies who are due their 3- and 4-month vaccinations in September 2015, to protect them when they are most at risk from infection.
The Men B vaccine will protect your baby against infection by meningococcal group B bacteria, which are responsible for more than 90% of meningococcal infections in young children.
Meningococcal infections can be very serious, causing meningitis and septicaemia (blood poisoning), which can lead to severe brain damage, amputations and, in some cases, death.
Meningitis and septicaemia caused by meningococcal group B bacteria can affect people of any age, but is most common in babies and young children.
The new programme makes England the first country in the world to offer a national, routine and publicly funded Men B vaccination programme.
Which babies should have the Men B vaccine?
The Men B vaccine is offered to babies alongside their other routine vaccinations at:
The vaccine has the brand name Bexsero, and is given as a single injection into the baby's thigh.
The Men B vaccine can be given at the same time as other routine baby vaccinations, such as the 5-in-1 vaccine and pneumococcal vaccine.
Can vaccines overload a baby's immune system?
Your doctor's surgery or clinic will automatically send you an appointment for you to bring your baby for their Men B vaccination alongside their other routine vaccinations. Most surgeries and health centres run special immunisation or baby clinics. If you can't get to the clinic, contact the surgery to make another appointment.
Find out when your baby should have the Men B vaccine.
Read the patient information leaflet for Bexsero (EXTERNAL LINK).
Men B vaccine safety
Like all vaccines, the Men B vaccine can cause side effects, but studies suggest they are generally mild and don't last long.
Almost 8,000 people, including more than 5,000 babies and toddlers, have had the new Men B vaccine during clinical trials to test its safety.
Since the vaccine was licensed, almost a million doses have been given, with no safety concerns identified.
Men B vaccine and fever
Babies given the Men B vaccine alongside their other routine vaccinations at two and four months are likely to develop fever within the first 24 hours after vaccination.
It's important that you give your baby liquid paracetamol following vaccination to reduce the risk of fever. Your nurse will give you more information about paracetamol at your vaccination appointment.
Other common side effects include irritability and redness and tenderness at the injection site. The liquid paracetamol will also help with these symptoms.
Read this NHS leaflet on how to use paracetamol to prevent and treat fever after Men B vaccination.
Read more about possible Men B vaccine side effects.
Meningitis B is a killer
Meningococcal group B bacteria is a serious cause of life-threatening infections, including Meningitis and blood poisoning, worldwide and the leading infectious killer of babies and young children in the UK.
There are 12 known groups of meningococcal bacteria, and group B (Men B) is responsible for about 90% of meningococcal infections in the UK.
Meningococcal infections tend to come in bursts. In the past 20 years, between 500 and 1,700 people every year, mainly babies and young children, have suffered from Men B disease, with around 1 in 10 dying from the infection. Many of those who survive suffer terrible permanent disability, such as amputation, brain damage and epilepsy.
Read more about meningitis.
Men B vaccine protection
There are hundreds of different strains of meningococcal group B bacteria around the world, and some tests predict that the Men B vaccine protects against almost 90% of the ones circulating in England. However, it's not yet clear how this will relate to lives saved or cases prevented.
How the Men B vaccine works
The Men B vaccine is made from three major proteins found on the surface of most meningococcal bacteria, combined with the outer membrane of one Men B strain. Together, these constituents stimulate the immune system to protect against future exposures to meningococcal bacteria.
For more detail on the ingredients of the Men B vaccine, read the patient information leaflet for Bexsero (EXTERNAL LINK).
Read more about vaccine ingredients.
Different types of Meningitis vaccines
There are two vaccines against the other common strains of meningococcal disease – the Men ACWY vaccine (against meningococcal groups A, C, W and Y) which is offered on the NHS to teenagers and first-time students and the Men C vaccine (against meningococcal group C) for babies.
Since the Men C vaccine was introduced into the NHS's national childhood vaccination programme in 1999, the disease has been virtually eliminated in the UK. Nowadays, there are just a handful of Men
To download an information booklet on the MenB vaccine please click here (EXTERNAL LINK)
A vaccine to prevent shingles, a common, painful skin disease is available on the NHS to certain people in their 70s.
The shingles vaccine is given as a single injection. Unlike the flu jab, you'll only need to have the vaccination once and you can have it at any time of the year.
The shingles vaccine is expected to reduce your risk of getting shingles. If you are unlucky enough to go on to have the disease, your symptoms may be milder and the illness shorter.
Shingles can be very painful and uncomfortable. Some people are left with pain lasting for years after the initial rash has healed. And shingles is fatal for around 1 in 1,000 over-70s who develop it.
It's fine to have the shingles vaccine if you've already had shingles. The shingles vaccine works very well in people who have had shingles before and it will boost your immunity against further shingles attacks.
Who can have the shingles vaccination?
Click here to download the shingles eligibility poster. (.pdf, 192KB)
You can have the shingles vaccination at any time of year, though many people will find it convenient to have it at the same time as their annual flu vaccination.
What is the brand name of the shingles vaccine?
The brand name of the shingles vaccine given in the UK is Zostavax. It can be given at any time of the year.
Read the patient information leaflet (PIL) for Zostavax (EXTERNAL LINK).
Read more about who can have the shingles vaccine.
How is the shingles vaccine given?
As an injection into the upper arm.
How does the shingles vaccine work?
The vaccine contains a weakened chickenpox virus (varicella-zoster virus). It's similar, but not identical to, the chickenpox vaccine.
Very occasionally, people have developed a chickenpox-like illness following shingles vaccination (fewer than 1 in 10,000 individuals).
How long will the shingles vaccine protect me for?
It's difficult to be precise, but research suggests the shingles vaccine will protect you for at least five years, probably longer.
How safe is the shingles vaccine?
There is lots of evidence showing that the shingles vaccine is very safe. It's already been used in several countries, including the US and Canada, and no safety concerns have been raised. The vaccine also has few side effects.
Read more about shingles vaccine side effects.
What is shingles?
Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a painful skin rash caused by the reactivation of the chickenpox virus (varicella-zoster virus) in people who have previously had chickenpox.
It begins with a burning sensation in the skin, followed by a rash of very painful fluid-filled blisters that can then burst and turn into sores before healing. Often an area on just one side of the body is affected, usually the chest but sometimes the head, face and eye.
Read more about the symptoms of shingles.
How is shingles spread?
You don't "catch" shingles – it comes on when there's a reawakening of chickenpox virus that's already in your body. The virus can be reactivated because of advancing age, medication, illness or stress and so on.
Anyone who has had chickenpox can get shingles. It's estimated that around one in five people who have had chickenpox go on to develop shingles.
Read more about the causes of shingles.
Who's most at risk of shingles?
People tend to get shingles more often as they get older, especially over the age of 70. And the older you are, the worse it can be. The shingles rash can be extremely painful, such that sufferers can't even bear the feeling of their clothes touching the affected skin.
The pain of shingles can also linger long after the rash has disappeared, even for many years. This lingering pain is called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN).
Read more about the complications of shingles.
Read the answers to some of the common questions about the shingles vaccine.