Everything you need to know about the flu jab

If you are elderly or have a weakened immune system, you might be wondering whether the flu jab is something you need to get. With flu season approaching, we sat down with Nuffield Health National Lead for GP Services Dr Unnati Desai to help dispel some common myths about getting vaccinated.

Key takeaways

  • A flu vaccination shot cannot give you the flu
  • Flu jabs are free on the NHS for over 65s, pregnant women, and immunocompromised individuals
  • Children aged between two and seventeen receive a nasal spray version of the vaccine
  • The jab takes less than five minutes and can be gotten at your local GP surgery or pharmacist
  • The jab drastically reduces the chances of developing serious symptoms

What is the flu?

Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness that is easily spread between humans. You are at an increased risk of serious side effects if you are pregnant or immunocompromised by an underlying health condition.

Most people who contract the virus will experience a few days of symptoms. If you are concerned about the flu virus, the best way to protect yourself is to get vaccinated every year.

Do I need a flu jab?

For most people, the flu feels like a bad cold. For people who are immunocompromised, the flu can look a lot worse.

Because the virus attacks the lungs and throat, getting vaccinated is important for people with a respiratory illness. Elderly people are more vulnerable because our body’s ability to fight off infections and viruses decreases as we age.

If you are wondering whether or not you should get the flu jab, arrange an appointment with a GP to talk about your concerns.

What are some symptoms of the flu? 

Influenza symptoms generally manifests in the nose, throat, head, and lungs. The severity of symptoms vary and include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Runny nose
  • Cough
  • Fatigue and tiredness

When does flu season start?

You can catch the flu all year round. It’s not strictly seasonal, however, there is a clearly defined period where infection rates soar.

The traditional flu season in the UK starts in December and ends in March. If you are going to get the flu jab, you should book yourself in before winter starts as infection rates typically start to rise in October.

What is a flu jab?

The flu jab is a vaccination shot that contains an inactive version of the influenza virus. The flu vaccination is administered via injection and takes no longer than five minutes to get.

Why should I get vaccinated?

Not everyone needs to get the flu vaccination. It is the best way to protect yourself if you are concerned about the effect the flu might have on your body if you do contract the virus.

It’s recommended that elderly people, pregnant women, and those people suffering with an underlying health condition all get the flu jab. This is because they cannot fight the virus as well because of their immunocompromised status.

Where can I get a flu jab?

The flu jab is offered by the NHS and can be arranged by visiting your GP. The jab is free on the NHS for individuals who are over 65, are pregnant, or who have a qualifying underlying health condition.

It’s likely that you will get your flu jab at your local GP’s surgery. You can also get jabbed at a local pharmacy.

How often should you get a flu jab?

Because the flu virus mutates every year, it’s important you get jabbed once a year before flu season starts. The jab you got last year offers little to no guaranteed protection against the mutated influenza strain that is likely to be prevalent in the population the following year.

When is the best time to get vaccinated?

The best time to get vaccinated is before flu season starts in autumn. Getting vaccinated later can still protect against flu viruses that hang around into the spring months, so if you've missed or forgotten about your jab in Autumn, it's still a good idea to get vaccinated during winter.

Can the vaccine give you the flu?

This is a common myth. The flu jab contains an inactive version of the influenza virus which cannot give you the flu virus.

Can you still get the flu?

Yes, you can.

Whilst getting vaccinated doesn’t prevent you from contracting the virus, it does drastically lower the chance that experience serious symptoms. It also lessens the amount of time the virus spends inside your body.

Does the flu jab protect against COVID-19?

No, the flu jab does not protect against COVID-19.

If you are worried about contracting COVID-19 because of your age, physical condition, or the presence of an underlying health condition, speak to a GP about getting a separate vaccination booked in to combat against the side-effects of this virus.

Are there flu jab side effects?

You may feel slightly feverish, sick, achy, or nauseous after you get vaccinated. This is a common reaction to any vaccination, as your immune system is adjusting to the inactive version of the virus that has entered your body.

These symptoms typically clear up within a day or two and are a far less extreme version of what you would experience if you contracted the flu virus.

Should I get the flu jab if I’m pregnant?

It’s important for pregnant women to get vaccinated against the flu. This is because the body’s ability to fight viruses is lowered during pregnancy, putting the mother at increased risk of serious illness.

Studies indicate that women pass a certain degree of protection against the influenza virus on to their child, which can last for a few months after they’re born.

Can children get the flu jab?

Yes, children can get vaccinated against the flu, however the method used is slightly different.

Children aged between two and seventeen who require vaccination are administered a nasal spray instead of an injection. A nasal spray gives children the best protection against the flu virus.

If your child is aged between six months and two years old, they will receive an injection. This is because the nasal spray cannot be administered to children under two.

Is the flu jab kosher or halal?

Jewish law permits the use of all versions of the flu jab as they are a medical procedure required to save or preserve life.

The answer regarding whether the flu vaccine is halal is not as clear. The jab vaccination administered to adults and children under two is halal, however trace elements of porcine gelatine can be found in the child nasal spray version of the vaccine. This makes it unclear whether this version of the flu vaccination is halal or not.

If you have questions about this, we recommend discussing them with your GP or pharmacist who will be happy to address your concerns.

Last updated Tuesday 28 May 2024

First published on Thursday 21 September 2023