All you need to know to help keep you & your loved ones safe

The flu is a contagious infection spread through coughs and sneezes. It’s caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs. You can catch flu all year round, but it's especially common in winter, which is why it's also known as seasonal flu.

What is the flu vaccination?

The flu vaccination helps the body to produce protective antibodies to fight against the influenza viruses that cause the flu.

Why should I get the flu vaccination?

Catching the flu often means days of bed rest and missing work. Getting the flu jab is the best way to help avoid this and to help prevent those around you from catching and spreading the flu. 

Getting vaccinated is also especially important for certain people who are more likely to have severe symptoms and develop flu complications, like pneumonia and bronchitis. This includes:

• Those who have a weakened immune system or certain medical conditions

• Anyone aged 65 or over

• Pregnant women

• Carers, healthcare workers and social workers (who could risk infecting vulnerable people)

How effective is the flu vaccination?

No vaccine is 100 percent effective, but being vaccinated helps protect you against the strains of flu virus contained in the vaccination. This includes swine flu. It’s still possible to get flu after vaccination, but it’s likely to be milder and not last as long. 

How long will I be protected against the flu?

There are three main types of influenza viruses, each with different strains, but flu strains can change from year to year, which means last year’s jab may not protect you from this year’s strains. Over time, protection from the flu jab gradually decreases, so it’s important to keep up to date and get your flu jab every year. It usually takes around 10-14 days after your vaccination to be protected against the flu.

When should I get the vaccination?

The flu vaccination is usually available around September or October, ready for the upcoming winter season. The best time to have the flu vaccine is in the autumn before flu starts spreading. It’s still effective though if you have the vaccination later in the year. It usually takes around 10-14 days after your vaccination to be protected against the flu.

Who is eligible for the free NHS flu vaccination?

The NHS offers a free flu vaccination every year to certain groups of people. Eligibility criteria for a free NHS flu vaccination may vary across each UK country, so please refer to local NHS guidance for details. Some people who may be entitled to a free flu vaccination on the NHS include those who:

• Are aged 65 or over (including those who’ll be 65 by 31 March 2023). In some UK countries the age limit may be lower than this

• Are pregnant

• Have diabetes

• Have asthma (treated with a preventer inhaler), COPD or other long-term lung conditions

• Have a long-term heart condition

• Have kidney or liver disease

• Have a neurological condition such as Parkinson’s disease

• Have a learning disability

• Have (or lives with someone who has) a weakened immune system due to a medical condition, medication or treatment

• Are severely overweight with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 40 or more

This is not a complete list and eligibility may vary across each UK country and throughout the season, so please refer to local NHS guidance for the latest information.

Most of our stores in England and Wales offer the free NHS flu jab to eligible groups aged 18+*. Alternatively, if you're in one of these groups, you should also be able to get a flu jab for free at your GP surgery. If you are not eligible for the NHS flu jab, please refer to the private service**. Furthermore, we are awaiting further information regarding whether pharmacies in Scotland and Northern Ireland can offer the free NHS (in Scotland) or HSC (in Northern Ireland) flu jab this year.

If you’re pregnant, you can ask your midwife for guidance – some midwives offer the service themselves but if not, they should be able to advise you.

What are the side effects of the flu vaccination?

As with all medicines, there may be some side effects. Most side effects are mild and only last for a day or so. Common side effects include: 

• Redness, soreness or bruising at the injection site

• A high temperature, sweating, shivering or feeling unwell

• Headaches, fatigue or dizziness

• Muscle and joint pain

Serious allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) to the flu vaccine are rare. If this does happen, it’s usually within minutes of having the vaccination. Your vaccinator is trained to deal with allergic reactions and treat them immediately.

What should I do if I’m experiencing side effects?

It’s unlikely for side effects to last beyond a day or so. To help reduce discomfort, the NHS advises:

• To continue to move your arm regularly

• To take a painkiller, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen (it’s important to note some people, including those who are pregnant, should not take ibuprofen unless a doctor recommends it) 

If you’re concerned about yourself or anyone else who is unwell following a vaccination, phone 111. 

Is there anyone who can't have the flu vaccination?

There are very few people who can’t have a flu jab, but it might not be suitable if you’ve had a reaction to a previous flu jab. Ask your GP or pharmacist if you’re unsure.

If you feel unwell on the day of your appointment, please contact us, as your appointment may need to be rescheduled.

Please don’t book an appointment or come into store if you or anyone in your household have symptoms of COVID-19. Please contact us when you can to reschedule your appointment.

Can I have the flu vaccination & the COVID-19 vaccination?

It’s suitable to have the flu vaccination and the COVID-19 vaccination. Some people may be offered both the flu and COVID-19 booster vaccines, if eligible, and you can have these at the same time.

It’s also safe to have the flu vaccine if you’ve had COVID-19. It will still be effective at helping to protect against flu. 

You’re more likely to become seriously ill if you get both flu and COVID-19 at the same time, and more people are likely to get the flu this winter, since fewer people will have built up natural immunity to it during the COVID-19 pandemic. So getting vaccinated against flu and COVID-19 will help protect you and others from both of these illnesses.

Boots Private Winter Flu Jab Service

If you aren’t eligible for the free NHS flu jab, you can still help to protect yourself against flu with our private Winter Flu Jab Service.** The service is available for customers aged 16 and over in most Boots pharmacies across the UK, and in selected stores for children aged 11 to 15.

*Subject to availability. NHS eligibility criteria apply. Some people who do not meet the requirements for a free NHS flu jab in pharmacies can access the flu jab from their GP

**Subject to availability. Check your local Boots store for details. Eligibility criteria apply. Injectable vaccination only for all ages. £19.95 (£21.99 in Jersey).