Who should get the flu vaccine?

The flu campaign for 2016/2017 ended on 30 April 2017. The next season flu campaign will launch in September 2017. 

    Who is most at risk from flu?


    Anyone can get the flu but it is more severe in people aged 65 years and over and anyone with a chronic medical condition. Chronic medical conditions include chronic heart conditions, chronic respiratory disease, diabetes mellitus and immunosupression due to disease or treatment. Pregnant women have also been found to be at increased risk of the complications of flu. These groups of people are targeted for influenza vaccination.

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    Who should be vaccinated?

    Vaccination is strongly recommended for:

    • Persons aged 65 and over
    • Those aged 6 months and older with a long-term health condition such as
      - Chronic heart disease (this includes anyone who has a history of having a "heart attack" or unstable angina)
      - Chronic liver disease
      - Chronic renal failure
      - Chronic respiratory disease, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis, moderate or severe asthma or bronchopulmonary dysplasia
      - Chronic neurological disease including multiple sclerosis, hereditary and degenerative disorders of the central nervous system
      - Diabetes mellitus
      - Down syndrome
      - Haemoglobinopathies
      - Morbid obesity i.e. body mass index over 40
      - Immunosuppression due to disease or treatment (these include anyone on treatment for cancer)
    • Children aged 6 months and older
      - with any condition that can affect lung function especially those attending special schools/day centres with cerebral palsy or intellectual disability
      - on long-term aspirin therapy (because of the risk of Reyes syndrome)
    • Pregnant women (vaccine can be given at any stage of pregnancy)
    • Healthcare workers
    • Residents of nursing homes and other long stay institutions
    • Carers (the main carers of those in the at risk groups)
    • People with regular contact with pigs, poultry or water fowl.

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    What is influenza (flu)?

    Influenza is a highly infectious acute respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus. Influenza affects people of all ages. Outbreaks of influenza occur almost every year, usually in winter. This is why it is also known as seasonal flu.

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    How serious is flu?

    Flu is often self limiting. Healthy people normally recover within 7 days but some people recover more quickly. People who are at risk of the complications of flu will usually feel better in about 10 days.

    However, flu can be severe and can cause serious illness and death, especially in the very young and in the elderly. Serious respiratory complications can develop, including pneumonia and bronchitis, to which older people and those with certain chronic medical conditions are particularly susceptible. Pregnant women have also been found to be at increased risk of the complications of flu. Some people may need hospital treatment and between 200 and 500 people, mainly older people, die from influenza each winter.

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    How do people catch flu?

    Flu is a highly infectious illness. A person carrying the virus can spread the illness by coughing or sneezing. A person can spread the virus from 1-2 days before they develop symptoms and for up to a week after symptoms develop.

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    What are the symptoms of Flu?

    Flu symptoms hit you suddenly and severely. Symptoms of flu include

    • sudden fever,
    • chills,
    • headache,
    • myalgia (muscle pain),
    • sore throat,
    • non-productive dry cough.

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    Is it seasonal flu or the common cold?

    It can be difficult at times to tell between the common cold and flu. A cold is a much less severe illness than flu. The flu symptoms come on suddenly with fevers and muscle aches. A cold usually starts gradually with symptoms of a sore throat and a blocked or runny nose.

    Table of Symptoms

    The following table provides information on how to distinguish between seasonal flu and cold symptoms

    Symptoms Seasonal flu Cold
    Fever High fever lasts 3-4 days Rare
    Headache Prominent Rare
    General Aches, Pains Usual; often severe Slight
    Fatigue, Weakness Can last up to 2-3 weeks Quite mild
    Extreme Exhaustion Early and prominent Never
    Stuffy Nose Sometimes Common
    Sneezing Sometimes Usual
    Sore Throat Sometimes Common
    Chest Discomfort, Cough Common; can become severe Mild to moderate; hacking cough

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    How can flu be prevented?

    Flu can be prevented by vaccination. Flu vaccine is a safe, effective way to help prevent flu infection, avoiding hospitalisation, reducing flu related deaths and illnesses.

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    What is the seasonal (annual) flu vaccine?

    Each year the seasonal (annual) flu vaccine contains three common influenza virus strains. The flu virus changes each year this is why a new flu vaccine has to be given each year.

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    What strains are in the 2016/17 year's seasonal flu vaccine?

    This year's seasonal flu vaccine contains 3 strains of flu viruses as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the strains most likely to be circulating this season. The three strains are

    • A/California/7/2009 (H1N1)pdm09 - like strain (A/California/7/2009,   NYMC X-179A)
    •  A/Hong Kong/4801/2014 (H3N2) - like strain (A/Hong Kong/4801/2014, NYMC X-263B) -
    • B/Brisbane/60/2008 - like strain (B/Brisbane/60/2008, wild type)

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    How does seasonal flu vaccine work?

    Seasonal flu vaccine helps the person's immune system to produce antibodies to the flu virus. When someone who has been vaccinated comes into contact with the virus these antibodies attack the virus.

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    How effective is seasonal flu vaccine?

    Influenza vaccine effectiveness can vary from year-to-year among different age and risk groups. How well the vaccine works can depend in part on the match between the predicted vaccine virus used to produce the vaccine and the viruses that will circulate during the 2016/2017 season.]

    This year's flu vaccine is expected to be around 60% effective.

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    How long is the flu season?

    In the Northern hemisphere the flu season lasts from October to the end of April. Flu vaccine is recommended to protect all those in the at risk groups until the end of April. Women who are pregnant at any stage during the flu season should get flu vaccine. The flu vaccine has been given during pregnancy for the past 50 years in the US.

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    How safe is flu vaccine?

    Seasonal flu vaccines have been given for more than 60 years to millions of people across the world. Reactions are generally mild and serious side effects are very rare.

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    Is there thiomersal in the seasonal flu vaccine?

    No. There is no thiomersal in the vaccine used in the 2016/2017 flu campaign.

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    Will the flu vaccine give me the flu?

    No, flu vaccine will not give you the flu. Flu vaccine contains killed or inactivated viruses and therefore cannot cause flu. It does, however, take 10 - 14 days for the vaccine to start protecting against flu.

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    When should I get vaccinated?

    The vaccine should be given in late September/October each year.

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    What should I expect after vaccination?

    The most common side effects will be mild and will include soreness, redness or swelling where the injection was given. Headache, fever, aches and tiredness may occur. Some people may experience mild sweating and shivering as their immune system responds to the vaccine but this is not flu and will pass in a day or so.

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    How long does it take the vaccine to work?

    The vaccine starts to work within two weeks.

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    Who should NOT get seasonal flu vaccine?

    The vaccine should not be given to those with a history of severe allergic (anaphylaxis) reaction to a previous dose of the vaccine or any of its constituents.

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    What about people with egg allergy?

    Those with confirmed egg anaphylaxis and non-anaphylactic egg allergy can be given an influenza vaccine with an ovalbumin content <0.1μg per dose.

    Inactivated Influenza vaccine (Split Virion) BP (Sanofi Pasteur) contains less than 0.1μg ovalbumin per dose and so can be administered in accordance with the Table below.

    History Recommendation
    Non-anaphylactic egg allergy
    without severe asthma

    Seasonal influenza vaccine with
    ovalbumin content

    <0.1μg per dose, in primary care,
    with observation for 60 minutes.

    Egg anaphylaxis or egg allergy
    and severe asthma

    Refer to hospital specialist for vaccination
    with seasonal influenza vaccine with
    ovalbumin content <0.1μg per dose.

    Skin testing is NOT necessary and vaccine
    should be given as a single dose with
    observation for 60 minutes.


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    When should vaccination be postponed?

    There are very few reasons why vaccination should be postponed. Vaccination should be re-scheduled if you have an acute illness with a temperature greater than 38°C.

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    How do I get vaccinated?

    • People aged 18 years or older may attend either their GP or Pharmacist.
    • People under 18 years of age should attend their GP for vaccination.

    Please make an appointment now.

    • The vaccine is free for all those in the recommended groups.
    • The vaccine and consultation are free to those within the recommended groups who have a 'Medical Card' or 'Doctor Only Card'.
    • Family doctors and Pharmacists charge a consultation fee for seasonal flu vaccine to those who do not have a 'Medical Card' or 'Doctor Only Card'.

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    If you are aged 65 or older or have a long term medical condition you should also ask your doctor about the pneumococcal vaccine which protects against pneumonia, if you have not previously received it.

    A once only booster vaccination is recommended 5 years after the first vaccination for those;

    • Aged 65 years and older if they received vaccine more than 5 years before and were less than 65 years of age at the time of the first dose,
    • Less than 65 years of age and whose antibody levels are likely to decline rapidly e.g. if you have any of the following of the medical conditions: an underactive spleen, or have had spleen removed, immunosuppression, chronic kidney disease or kidney transplant.


    Keep well this winter

    1. Eat well: eat at least one hot meal a day.
    2. Keep warm: wear several layers when outside and keep at least one room heated during the day.
    3. Keep active.
    4. Get vaccinated.

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    Where can I get more information?

    More information is available from the following links

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    This page was updated on 9 May 2017