Flu occurs every year, usually in the winter. Sometimes flu can lead to serious illnesses or make existing conditions worse. The best way to protect yourself is to get the free seasonal flu vaccine if your GP offers you the vaccine.
People who should get the vaccine
Some people are at greater risk from the effects of flu and should get the vaccine when offered it. There’s an increased risk if:
- you're pregnant
- you're aged 65 or over, even if you feel fit and healthy
- you live in a residential or nursing home
- you have an illness or underlying health condition (including children from 6 months of age)
The annual flu vaccination programme also includes:
- pre-school children aged two years and over
- children at primary school and in the first year of secondary school (Year 8)
- people who care for an elderly or disabled person – you should ask your GP if you should be vaccinated so you can continue caring for the person
- frontline health and social care (HSC) workers, that is those who provide direct patient care
During the 2020/ 21 flu vaccination programme the following groups were also eligible to receive a free flu vaccination:
- household contacts of those who received shielding letters during the COVID-19 pandemic can request vaccination via their GP
- school children in Year 8 (those in the first year of secondary school from September 2020)
- staff in independent care homes
- 50 to 64 year olds by 31 March 2021
People with illnesses or health conditions
Children over six months old and adults should get the vaccine if they have:
- a chronic chest condition such as asthma
- a chronic heart condition
- chronic liver disease
- chronic kidney disease
- lowered immunity due to disease or treatment such as steroids or cancer therapy
- a chronic neurological condition such as stroke, multiple sclerosis or a condition that affects the nervous system such as cerebral palsy
- a very high body weight (BMI greater than 40)
- any other serious medical condition, ask your doctor if you're unsure
Flu vaccine for children
The annual flu vaccination programme includes:
- all pre-school children aged two years and over (offered in GP)
- all children at primary school (offered in schools)
- all children in Year 8 (offered in schools)
- children aged six months to two years with underlying health conditions (offered in GP)
- children in school Years 9 to 14 with underlying health conditions (up to 18 years) (offered in GP)
Children should also get the flu vaccine if:
- they were previously in hospital with a chest infection
- they go to a school for children with severe learning difficulty
Health and social care workers
Health and social care (HSC) workers should get the vaccine. You should get the vaccine if you are in one of the following groups:
- employed by the Trust or Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS)
- employed by a Trust owned or registered independent care home (includes administration, support and kitchen staff), a home care provider or a voluntary managed hospice provider
- work in HSC community services such as primary care, community pharmacy, community dentist, Business Services Organisation (BSO) Health and Social Care Board (HSCB), Public Health Agency (PHA) and Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA)
- you are a health care worker and are directly involved in the provision of health-related care of vulnerable patients or clients
- you are a social care worker and are directly involved in the provision of social care to vulnerable patients or clients
You can get the vaccine from a participating community pharmacy or through your employer (if your employer offers this service).
Protection against common flu strains
Each year the flu vaccine protects against the three most common strains of flu. You are more at risk from flu complications if you fall into any of the categories listed above. In the worst cases, flu can result in a stay in hospital or even death.
You should get the vaccine even if you got it last year and you feel fit and healthy now.
By getting the vaccine you are protecting yourself and others, who may be more vulnerable than you. You are also helping to protect the healthcare system at a time when it is under strain due to the coronavirus pandemic.
How the flu vaccine works
The flu vaccine cannot give you flu nor will it make you more vulnerable to COVID-19. The vaccine is made from small parts of the flu virus.
Seven to 14 days after you get the vaccine, your body makes antibodies to the vaccine viruses. These antibodies help protect you against flu.
Flu vaccine and allergic reactions
If you had an anaphylactic reaction to a previous flu vaccine, you may not be able to get the flu vaccine. The healthcare worker giving the flu vaccines will be able to tell you if this is the case.
If you have any other allergies, for example, egg or latex there may be only certain types of flu vaccines that you can get and you should discuss any allergies that you have with your GP or nurse administering the flu vaccine.
Flu vaccine in pregnancy
Flu infection during pregnancy can be very harmful to mother and baby. Serious complications include:
- heart problems
- lung problems
The flu vaccine is safe for pregnant women and their babies. If you're pregnant, you should get the vaccine to protect you and your baby from flu, regardless of your stage of pregnancy.
To get the vaccine, contact your GP.
Administering the flu vaccine during the COVID-19 pandemic
It is more important than ever to get the vaccine this year as early research shows that for some people contracting COVID-19 and flu virus increases the risk of complications, which could be fatal.
Robust infection control procedures and social distancing will be in place in all settings where the flu vaccination is administered.
You can also reduce your risk or catching coronavirus by following the latest public health advice when you are out getting your vaccination:
Do not attend your vaccination appointment if you are displaying symptoms of COVID-19 or if you are in self-isolation having been identified as a close contact of a positive COVID-19. You should rearrange your appointment.
Where to get the flu vaccine
When and where you get your vaccine will depend on which group you belong to:
- risk groups (except those in primary school and year 8) will be invited to get the vaccine by their GP
- pre-school children will be offered the vaccine by their GP
- all children in primary school and those in year 8, including children in risk groups, will get the vaccine in school – sign and return the consent form
- pregnant women should contact their GP to get the vaccine
- household contacts of those of who received shielding letters should contact their GP to get the vaccine
- health and social care workers should get the vaccine from a participating community pharmacy or through their employer (if employer offers the service)
- 50-64 year olds should get the vaccine from a participating community pharmacy or should contact their GP to get the vaccine