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Flu vaccine

The seasonal flu vaccine (flu jab) protects against 4 strains of flu virus. These are the strains most likely to be circulating this flu season.

The vaccine is available every year to adults and children at risk of flu and its complications.

You need to get a new vaccine every Autumn. This is because the strains of the flu virus change. This is why it is called seasonal flu. But people commonly call it flu.

You should get your flu vaccine during the Autumn, to be covered for flu season.

Flu vaccine is recommended

Some people are more at risk of getting complications if they catch flu.

You can get the flu vaccine for free if you:

  • are 65 years of age and over
  • are pregnant
  • are a child aged 2 to 12 years (new for 2020/2021)
  • are an adult or child aged 6 months or older with a long-term health condition like
    • chronic heart disease, including acute coronary syndrome
    • 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
    • haemoglobinopathies
    • morbid obesity i.e. body mass index (BMI) over 40
    • immunosuppression due to disease or treatment (including treatment for cancer)
    • are a child with a moderate to severe neurodevelopmental disorder such as cerebral palsy
  • were born with Down syndrome
  • live in a nursing home or other long-term care facility

Some people should get the vaccine to protect themselves, their families and those they care for.

These include those who:

  • work in healthcare
  • are a carer or live with someone who is at risk of flu because of a long-term health condition
  • are a carer or live with someone who has Down syndrome

People who are in regular contact with pigs, poultry or waterfowl should get the flu vaccine. 

If you are in an at-risk group, you should get the flu vaccine during Autumn.

Where to get the flu vaccine

You can get the flu vaccine from:

  • your GP 
  • a local pharmacy
  • an occupational health department or peer vaccinator if you work in healthcare

How the flu vaccine works

The flu vaccine helps your immune system to produce antibodies (proteins that fight infection). If you have had the flu vaccine and you come into contact with the flu virus, the vaccine can stop you from getting sick

The flu vaccine starts to work within 2 weeks.

You need to have the flu vaccine every year. This is because the antibodies that protect you decline over time. Flu strains can also change from year to year.

Safe and effective flu vaccine

Getting the flu vaccine is the best way to help protect yourself from getting the flu.

It will not stop all flu viruses and the level of protection may vary. So it's not a 100% effective and you may still get flu.

But if you do get flu after you have the vaccine, it's likely to be milder and you will recover more quickly.

Flu vaccines usually reduce the risk of infection by 40-60%.

Flu vaccines also reduce:

  • the severity of illness
  • complications from influenza
  • flu-related hospitalisations
  • admissions to critical care units

Flu vaccines have been given to millions of people worldwide for over 60 years, including pregnant women. Reactions to the vaccine are generally mild.

There is no aluminium, thiomersal, mercury, gelatin or porcine gelatin in the Quadrivalent Inactivated Influneza vaccine used in the 2020/2021 campaign. Read more about what is contained in the flu vaccine from the HPRA website.

There are very small amounts of gelatin/porcine gelatin in the Live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine (Fluenz) for children aged 2-12 years old. Gelatin is used as a stabiliser and is different from gelatin found in food as it is processed and broken down into small fragments. 

Read more on the use of gelatin in the vaccine from the Irish Council of Imams.

Read more about what is contained in the nasal flu vacicne from the HPRA website.

Read more about how well vaccines work on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website

All medicines, including flu vaccines, require licensing by the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) or the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

Any harmful effects should be reported to the HPRA.

Flu vaccine side effects

You may have a mild fever and aching muscles for a couple of days after having the vaccine. Your arm may also be a bit sore where you got the injection.

Serious side effects of the flu vaccine are very rare.

When you should not get the flu vaccine

You should not get the flu vaccine if you:

  • have had a severe allergic (anaphylaxis) reaction to a previous flu vaccine or any part of the vaccine.
  • are taking medicines called combination checkpoint inhibitors, for example, ipilimumab plus nivolumab
  • are ill with a temperature greater than 38 degrees Celsius - you should wait until you are well before getting the vaccine.
  • If you have an egg allergy, you should talk to your GP about getting the vaccine.

The 2020 / 2021 flu vaccine

This year's seasonal flu vaccine contains protection against 4 strains of flu virus. These are recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the strains most likely to be circulating this season.

The four strains are:

  • an A/Guangdong-Maonan/SWL1536/2019 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus
  • an A/Hong Kong/2671/2019 (H3N2)-like virus
  • a B/Washington/02/2019 (B/Victoria lineage)-like virus
  • a B/Phuket/3073/2013 (B/Yamagata lineage)-like virus

The 2020/2021 HSE seasonal vaccination programme will offer 2 vaccines

More information