Millions of people are being encouraged to book their flu vaccines online this week in a bid to ease pressure on the NHS this winter.
While most who are sick with the flu feel achy, exhausted and suffer from a sore throat, the virus can be life-threatening for the elderly and people with underlying health conditions. It can also increase the risk of complications for expectant mothers.
But an annual flu shot can help protect these vulnerable groups from becoming seriously ill.
Figures already show that 3.7 million people have received their flu shot since the start of the campaign on September 11
The flu can make most people feel dizzy, with coughing, sore throat and high fever. But for some it can be much more serious
Who is eligible for the flu shot this winter?
The jab is available free on the NHS for those most at risk of becoming seriously ill from flu.
This year, the 30 million eligible people include those over 65; pregnant woman; all children aged two or three; school-age children; those in long-term residential care centers; caregivers and close contacts of immunocompromised people.
Anyone who is under 65 and has certain health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, certain neurological diseases, liver disease or a weakened immune system (for example because they are prescribed steroids or are being treated for cancer), can also get a free shot.
People with other long-term health conditions, such as learning difficulties, HIV or a BMI over 40, are also eligible.
How much does the injection cost?
Eligible groups can get the jab for free on the NHS.
But those not included in the criteria can pay to get the jab at some pharmacies or supermarkets.
Vaccines at Boots, Superdrug and Lloyds Pharmacy cost around £17 to 20.
Tesco also offers a private service to customers aged 12 and over for £13.
How do you book the vaccine?
It’s easy to book a flu jab and figures already show that 3.7 million people have received their flu jab since the campaign started on September 11.
Many people are also choosing to ‘double down’ and get flu and Covid vaccines at the same time.
Those eligible for an NHS flu jab can make an appointment through their GP practice. Those over 18 can choose to book with a pharmacy offering NHS flu vaccines or make an appointment on the NHS website.
Some people may receive an invitation to get the jab, but you don’t have to wait for this to make a booking, the NHS says.
It adds that the jab can also be offered to you through a local maternity unit if you are pregnant, a care home or an employer if you are a frontline health or social worker.
Does it have side effects?
Like most vaccines, the flu shot stings a bit and has side effects.
But most of these are mild and only last a day or so.
People over 65 and those with certain long-term health conditions such as diabetes, asthma and coronary heart disease can get the jab for free on the NHS
A feeling of pain or a slightly elevated temperature for several days is a common side effect caused by the immune system reacting to the vaccine.
You may also have a painful arm where the needle went in.
To ease the pain, the NHS suggests continuing to move your arm regularly and taking a painkiller such as paracetamol or ibuprofen.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), serious side effects are extremely rare. One in a million people can develop Guillain-Barré syndrome, which causes muscle weakness and paralysis.
But the flu itself is deadly. It is believed that around 14,500 people died in England last winter. However, getting the vaccine reduces the risk of severe illness, hospitalization and death.
How effective are the shots?
It is still possible to become infected with a flu strain even after receiving the vaccine, because different flu viruses are constantly circulating and no vaccine is 100 percent effective.
But despite this, getting the vaccine has been shown to reduce the risk of hospitalization from flu.
Last winter 66 percent fewer children; According to UKHSA, 25 percent fewer adults aged 65 and over and 33 percent fewer other adults with underlying health conditions were admitted to hospital with flu.
For me, if you do get flu after the jab, it’s probably much milder and won’t last as long, says the NHS.
It can also help prevent you from spreading the flu to other vulnerable people who are at risk of becoming seriously ill.
What is the flu?
The flu is the name of a contagious respiratory disease caused by influenza viruses.
It mainly infects the nose and throat, but can sometimes reach the lungs.
Most cases are mild, but it can be fatal.
The flu is usually spread through small droplets that are created when people with the virus cough, sneeze or talk.
Flu vaccines are considered the best protection against the viruses, but they can take up to two weeks to work.
People need a flu vaccine every year because the viruses that cause the disease can change.
Experts formulate the flu vaccines based on global data, focusing mainly on the types of flu viruses spreading in the parts of the world that experience winter.
It will then take about six months to produce enough vaccines.
Flu symptoms may include:
- a sudden high temperature
- an aching body
- feeling tired or exhausted
- a dry cough
- a sore throat
- difficulty sleeping
- loss of appetite
- diarrhea or abdominal pain
- feeling sick and being sick