How to book a free NHS flu jab this winter - and who is eligible

GP surgeries and pharmacies are now administering the flu jab to millions of people across the UK (Photo: Shutterstock)

GP surgeries and pharmacies are now administering the flu jab to millions of people across the UK.

But who is eligible for a free flu jab on the NHS and when does the vaccination programme start?

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Here’s everything you need to know.

Who is eligible for a free flu jab?

The flu vaccine is given to people who:

  • are 50 and over
  • have certain health conditions
  • are pregnant
  • are in long-stay residential care
  • receive a carer’s allowance, or are the main carer for an older or disabled person who may be
  • at risk if you get sick
  • frontline health or social care workers

Ministers have said this year is set to be the UK’s largest flu vaccination programme in history, with jabs also to be offered to all children in primary school and all children in school years 7 to 11 in secondary school, children aged two and three, unpaid carers, and close contacts of immunocompromised individuals.

The flu vaccine is offered free on the NHS to anyone with a serious long-term health condition, including:

  • respiratory conditions, such as asthma (needing steroid inhaler or tablets), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), including emphysema and bronchitis
  • Diabetes
  • heart conditions, such as coronary heart disease or heart failure
  • being very overweight – a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or above
  • chronic kidney disease
  • liver disease, such as hepatitis
  • neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), or cerebral palsy
  • a learning disability
  • problems with your spleen, for example, sickle cell disease, or if you have had your spleen removed
  • a weakened immune system as the result of conditions such as HIV and AIDS, or taking medicines such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy

You can have the NHS flu vaccine at:

  • your GP surgery
  • a pharmacy offering the service
  • your midwifery service if you’re pregnant

If you have your flu vaccine at a pharmacy, you do not have to tell the GP. The pharmacist should tell them.

How can I book my flu jab?

To book your NHS flu jab you can ring your doctor’s surgery to be booked in for an appointment.Those who are eligible for a flu jab on the NHS may receive a letter or a phone call to remind them to book in for their flu jab.

Alternatively, you can book your flu jab at your local pharmacy or some may offer walk-in appointments.

Can I get the flu vaccine privately?

Adults who are not eligible for a flu vaccine on the NHS can pay for a flu vaccine privately.

The flu vaccine may be available from pharmacies or in supermarkets and is provided on a private patient basis. The vaccine can cost up to £20.

Is there anyone who should not have the vaccine?

The NHS explains that most adults can have the injected flu vaccine, but you should avoid it if you have had a serious allergic reaction to a vaccine in the past.

What are the side effects?

All adult flu vaccines are given by injection into the muscle of the upper arm. Flu jabs are very safe, and most side effects are mild and only last for a day or so, such as:

  • slightly raised temperature
  • muscle aches
  • sore arm where the needle went in – this is more likely to happen with the vaccine for people aged 65 and over

To help reduce the discomfort you can continue to move your arm regularly and take a painkiller, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. Some people, including those who are pregnant, should not take ibuprofen unless a doctor recommends it.

It’s very rare for anyone to have a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to the flu vaccine. If this does happen, it usually happens within minutes and the person who vaccinates you will be trained to deal with allergic reactions and treat them immediately.