Flu (Influenza)

The annual flu vaccine protects people over 65, those who have health conditions, pregnant women and those who work in healthcare, against the strains of flu virus that are likely to be circulating each winter flu season.

Over the last ten years, the flu vaccine has generally been a good match for the circulating strains of flu so you can be confident being vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself against a virus which can cause serious illness. Even when it is not as well matched, if you do develop flu, symptoms may be less severe and you may be less likely to develop complications requiring you to see your GP or being admitted to hospital. 

For information on the childhood flu immunisation programme for 2016, visit our child flu pages. 

What is flu?

Flu is much more than a bad cold. It’s a virus which can make even healthy people feel very unwell. In the most serious cases, flu can bring on pneumonia, or other serious infections which can, in extreme cases, result in death.

In Scotland the flu season usually begins as the weather gets colder, so get the vaccine as soon as you can. It is available from October through to the end of March. But remember, during the flu season it’s never too soon to get immunised.

Flu is often spread through the air by coughs and sneezes. It can also be caught by coming into contact with contaminated surfaces.

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Who needs the flu immunisation?

People over 65, those with a health condition, pregnant women, and those who work in health care should get the flu vaccine.

If you have a health condition, flu can hit you hardest. The vaccine is the safest and most effective way of protecting yourself.

Conditions and diseases which can make flu much more dangerous include:

  • asthma
  • bronchitis
  • emphysema
  • cystic fibrosis
  • chronic heart disease
  • chronic kidney failure
  • multiple sclerosis
  • liver problems (such as cirrhosis/hepatitis)
  • diabetes
  • asplenia or dysfunction of the spleen
  • being very overweight
  • HIV infection

If you have any of the listed conditions or any other health condition, even if you feel fit and healthy, please speak to your GP to find out if you should have the flu vaccine. Flu can seriously affect you, so, it’s worthwhile getting immunised to avoid unnecessary worry for you and those close to you.

If you are pregnant, you are at greater risk of complications from flu. Having the vaccine now could help you avoid catching flu and protect your baby.

If you have children who suffer from any of the conditions above, they should be immunised too.

Anyone undergoing chemotherapy or radiotherapy treatment should also get immunised.

Unpaid carers of any age, including young carers, are also eligible for the flu vaccine.

If you are a healthcare worker (anyone who works in health and social care) it is recommended you have the flu vaccine too.

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How does the flu vaccine work?

The vaccine takes around 10 days to work and should protect you from flu for around a year. You have to get immunised annually because the virus changes constantly and your immunity reduces over time. Last year’s vaccine won’t necessarily protect you from this year’s flu viruses.

The flu vaccine can’t give you flu, but it can stop you catching it.

For the maximum protection possible, make sure you get immunised every year. 

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Where do I get the flu immunisation?

Simply contact your GP surgery to arrange an appointment. The flu vaccine is free to everyone in Scotland with a health condition, who is pregnant or who is 65 or over, and to those who work in healthcare. 

You want to get on with life without worrying about catching flu. So arrange your immunisation as soon as you can.

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Can I source the vaccine privately?

Anyone who falls under one of the eligible groups will be offered a free flu immunisation. Those aged 16 or over, who are not eligible for free immunisation, can get the vaccine in many high street pharmacies for a small fee.

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Is the vaccine safe?

The Scottish Government has no safety concerns about the vaccines used in the seasonal flu programme. As with all medicines used in Scotland, the influenza vaccines undergo rigorous safety testing by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), and no new concerns were reported. The MHRA continues to monitor the safety of these vaccines.

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Last reviewed on 30 June 2017

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