Flu jab Q&A

When does the flu season start and why should people have the jab done now? How long does it take to ‘work’?

The Flu season tends to begin as the months get colder. The vaccine can take between 10 to 14 days to become effective so the sooner eligible individuals receive their jab once vaccine becomes available the better. NHS Choices provide a good description of how the annual flu vaccine works: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/vaccinations/Pages/how-flu-vaccine-works.aspx

Why should people get a flu jab if they are invited?

The impact of flu on the population varies widely from year to year so is difficult to measure, resulting in a wide variation of numbers each year. On average it is estimated that several million people will get flu each winter in the UK. Everyone is at risk of catching flu and for most healthy people, infection results in predominantly mild illness. Unfortunately, for a small number of people in clinical risk groups it can be more serious.

You should have the flu jab if you are:

  • aged 65 years or over
  • aged six months to under 65 in clinical risk groups (e.g. if you have a heart problem, long standing chest complaint or breathing difficulties, diabetes, lowered immunity)
  • pregnant
  • living in a residential or nursing home
  • the main carer of an older or disabled person
  • a health or social care worker
  • we are also offering the vaccine to younger children


Should more parents ensure that eligible children get the jab? The take-up dropped last year.

Yes absolutely. Flu can be a very unpleasant illness in children causing fever, stuffy nose, dry cough, sore throat, aching muscles and joints, and extreme tiredness often lasting for several days. Some children can also get a very high fever, sometimes without the usual flu symptoms, and may need to go to hospital for treatment. Complications of flu can include bronchitis, pneumonia, and a painful ear infection which are not only unpleasant, but potentially serious. Annual immunisation will not only provide important protection to individual children but will also reduce the spread of flu to their families and the wider community, including groups at high risk of complications from flu (including babies), during the flu season.

Why is it important to get the take-up raised? It is around 45 per cent in 2015/2016 for at-risk groups. When does ‘herd immunity’ kick in?

Uptake is important as the vaccine helps to provide protection to the most susceptible members in our society with the weaker immune systems. Increasing uptake provides direct protection to those being offered the vaccine. In addition, vaccinating children, as the main spreaders of flu in the population, also provides herd effects, reducing their ability to infect others. This is likely to start to happen already at relatively low uptake levels.


Will this year’s jab be effective? Some concern about 2014/2015 jab not being as useful as it should have been. Have steps been taken to ensure this one is going to work?

Each year, the composition of the vaccine is reviewed by the WHO based on data on the most recent circulating viruses around the world. Based on those recommendations, the manufacturers develop the most optimal vaccines each year. In recent years, we have typically seen around 50% effectiveness for the adult seasonal flu vaccine in the UK. Some years a drifted influenza strain circulates, which is not so well matched to the vaccine, as in 2014-15. That year, we saw an effectiveness of about 30%. The children’s nasal spray was introduced in 2013-14 in the UK. Our data for last winter show the vaccine was of a similar effectiveness as the adult vaccine.

What is your risk of getting flu if you do get the jab?

On average, you would anticipate that getting vaccinated will reduce your risk of getting flu by half (compared to not being vaccinated).

Dr Richard Pebody

Dr Richard Pebody, Acting Head of Respiratory Diseases Department at PHE.

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