Flu vaccination by injection, commonly known as the "flu jab" is available every year on the NHS to protect adults (and some children) at risk of flu and its complications.
Flu can be unpleasant, but if you are otherwise healthy it will usually clear up on its own within a week.
However, flu can be more severe in certain people, such as:
- anyone over the age of 65
- pregnant women
- children and adults with an underlying health condition (particularly long-term heart or respiratory disease)
- children and adults with weakened immune systems
Anyone in these risk groups is more likely to develop potentially serious complications of flu, such as pneumonia (a lung infection), so it's recommended that they have a flu vaccine every year to protect them.
The flu vaccine is given free on the NHS as an annual injection to:
- adults over the age of 18 at risk of flu (including everyone over 65)
- children aged six months to two years at risk of flu
Find out more about who should have the flu jab.
Flu nasal spray vaccination
The flu vaccine is given as an annual nasal spray to:
- children aged two to 17 years at a particular risk of flu
- healthy children aged two, three and four years old
Read more about the flu nasal spray for children.
How the flu jab helps
Studies have shown that the flu jab does work and will help prevent you getting the flu. It won't stop all flu viruses and the level of protection may vary between people, so it's not a 100% guarantee that you'll be flu-free, but if you do get flu after vaccination it's likely to be milder and shorter-lived than it would otherwise have been.
There is also evidence to suggest that the flu jab can reduce your risk of having a stroke.
Over time, protection from the injected flu vaccine gradually decreases and flu strains often change. So new flu vaccines are produced each year which is why people advised to have the flu jab need it every year too.
Read more about how the flu jab works.
Flu jab side effects
Serious side effects of the injected flu vaccine are very rare. You may have a slight temperature and aching muscles for a couple of days after having the jab, and your arm may be a bit sore where you were injected.
Read more about the side effects of the flu jab.
The pneumococcal vaccine (or 'pneumo jab' or pneumonia vaccine as it's also known) protects against pneumococcal infections.
Pneumococcal infections are caused by the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae and can lead to pneumonia, septicaemia (a kind of blood poisoning) and meningitis.
Read more about why the pneumococcal vaccination is needed.
Who should have the pneumococcal vaccine?
A pneumococcal infection can affect anyone. However, some people need the pneumococcal vaccination because they are at higher risk of complications. These include:
- all children under the age of two
- adults aged 65 or over
- children and adults with certain long-term health conditions, such as a serious heart or kidney condition
Read more about who should have the pneumo jab.
How often is the pneumococcal vaccine given?
Babies receive the pneumococcal vaccine as three separate injections, at 2 months, 4 months and 12-13 months.
People over-65 only need a single pneumococcal vaccination which will protect for life. It is not given annually like the flu jab.
People with a long term health condition may need just a single one-off pneumococcal vaccination or five-yearly vaccination depending on their underlying health problem.
Find out more about how often to have the pneumococcal vaccine.
Two types of pneumonia vaccine
There are two different types of pneumococcal vaccine:
More than 90 different strains of the pneumococcal bacterium have been identified, though only between eight and 10 of them cause the most serious infections.
The childhood vaccine (PCV) protects against 13 strains of the pneumococcal bacterium, while the adult vaccine (PPV) protects against 23 strains.
The pneumococcal vaccine is thought to be around 50 to 70% effective at preventing pneumococcal disease.
Read about how the pneumococcal vaccine works.
Who shouldn't have the pneumo jab?
Occasionally, you or your child may need to delay having the vaccination or avoid it completely:
Tell your GP if you or your child has had a bad reaction to any vaccination in the past. If there's been a confirmed severe allergic reaction, called an anaphylactic reaction, to the pneumococcal vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine, it's best to avoid having it. However, if it was only a mild reaction, such as a rash, it is generally safe to have the vaccine.
Unwell with a fever
If you or your child are mildly unwell at the time of the vaccination, it's safe to have the vaccine. However, if you or your child are more seriously ill – for example with a high temperature – it's best to delay the vaccination until after recovery.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding
It's thought to be safe to have the pneumococcal vaccine during pregnancy and while you're breastfeeding. But, as a precaution, if you are pregnant you may want to wait until you have had your baby (unless the benefits of having the vaccine outweigh the risks to your child).
Side effects of the pneumococcal vaccine
Like most vaccines, the childhood and adult versions of the pneumococcal vaccine can sometimes cause mild side effects, including:
- a mild fever
- redness at the site of the injection
- hardness or swelling at the site of the injection
There are no serious side effects listed for either the childhood or adult versions of the vaccine apart from an extremely small risk of serious allergic reaction.
Read more about the side effects of the pneumococcal vaccination.
A vaccine to prevent shingles, a common, painful skin disease is available on the NHS to certain people in their 70s.
The shingles vaccine is given as a single injection. Unlike the flu jab, you'll only need to have the vaccination once and you can have it at any time of the year.
The shingles vaccine is expected to reduce your risk of getting shingles. If you are unlucky enough to go on to have the disease, your symptoms may be milder and the illness shorter.
Shingles can be very painful and uncomfortable. Some people are left with pain lasting for years after the initial rash has healed. And shingles is fatal for around 1 in 1,000 over-70s who develop it.
It's fine to have the shingles vaccine if you've already had shingles. The shingles vaccine works very well in people who have had shingles before and it will boost your immunity against further shingles attacks.
Who can have the shingles vaccination?
From 1st April 2017 the shingles vaccine is routinely available to people when they turn 70 and 78 years of age. You remain eligible for the shingles vaccine up until your 80th birthday
In addition, anyone who was eligible for immunisation in the first three years of the programme but has not yet been vaccinated against shingles remains eligible until their 80th birthday
You can have the shingles vaccination at any time of year.
What is the brand name of the shingles vaccine?
The brand name of the shingles vaccine given in the UK is Zostavax. It can be given at any time of the year.
Read the patient information leaflet (PIL) for Zostavax.
Read more about who can have the shingles vaccine.
How is the shingles vaccine given?
As an injection into the upper arm.
How does the shingles vaccine work?
The vaccine contains a weakened chickenpox virus (varicella-zoster virus). It's similar, but not identical to, the chickenpox vaccine.
Very occasionally, people have developed a chickenpox-like illness following shingles vaccination (fewer than 1 in 10,000 individuals).
How long will the shingles vaccine protect me for?
It's difficult to be precise, but research suggests the shingles vaccine will protect you for at least five years, probably longer.
How safe is the shingles vaccine?
There is lots of evidence showing that the shingles vaccine is very safe. It's already been used in several countries, including the US and Canada, and no safety concerns have been raised. The vaccine also has few side effects.
Read more about shingles vaccine side effects.
What is shingles?
Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a painful skin rash caused by the reactivation of the chickenpox virus (varicella-zoster virus) in people who have previously had chickenpox.
It begins with a burning sensation in the skin, followed by a rash of very painful fluid-filled blisters that can then burst and turn into sores before healing. Often an area on just one side of the body is affected, usually the chest but sometimes the head, face and eye.
Read more about the symptoms of shingles.
How is shingles spread?
You don't "catch" shingles – it comes on when there's a reawakening of chickenpox virus that's already in your body. The virus can be reactivated because of advancing age, medication, illness or stress and so on.
Anyone who has had chickenpox can get shingles. It's estimated that around one in five people who have had chickenpox go on to develop shingles.
Read more about the causes of shingles.
Who's most at risk of shingles?
People tend to get shingles more often as they get older, especially over the age of 70. And the older you are, the worse it can be. The shingles rash can be extremely painful, such that sufferers can't even bear the feeling of their clothes touching the affected skin.
The pain of shingles can also linger long after the rash has disappeared, even for many years. This lingering pain is called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN).
Read more about the complications of shingles.
Read the answers to some of the common questions about the shingles vaccine.