Flu (also known as influenza) is a viral illness that affects your lungs and upper airways. It is highly infectious and can lead to serious complications for some people. Between 200 and 500 people in Ireland die from flu every year. However, an annual flu vaccine can help to protect you. The vaccine is free for certain groups of people who are at higher risk.
This winter, the flu vaccine is also available for free for children aged from 2 to 17. The extension to include children aged from 12 to 17 was announced on 11 December 2020. The vaccine for children is given by nasal spray rather than injection.
What is flu?
There are different types (or ‘strains’) of flu virus that go around each year. You should get a new flu vaccine every flu season to make sure you are protected. The flu season runs from October until April every year.
If you are infected with flu, you can spread it to other people by coughing or sneezing. You can also spread flu by touching surfaces without washing your hands.
You can infect other people from 1-2 days before your symptoms develop, and up to 5 days after your symptoms develop. Read the differences between the symptoms of flu and COVID-19.
Who is most at risk?
Flu can affect you at any age, but some people are more at risk than others.
If you are:
- 65 years or older
- Living with a long-term health condition
- A carer
- Living with someone who has a serious illness
- Working in healthcare
- In regular contact with pigs or poultry
You are strongly advised to get the flu vaccine.
The flu vaccine is available from early October until late April every year.
It will protect you against the most common strains of flu going around each winter. As strains of flu change every year, you should get a new flu vaccine every flu season.
When you get the flu vaccine, your immune system will start to produce antibodies. Then, if you come into contact with the flu virus, these antibodies will fight it and stop you from getting sick.
The flu vaccine does not contain live viruses – this means it cannot give you flu.
Flu vaccine during pregnancy
If you are pregnant, you should get the flu vaccine as soon as possible. This is because pregnant people are more at risk of complications from flu.
If you are pregnant through 2 flu seasons (for example, your pregnancy goes from the end of one flu season to the beginning of another), you may need to get 2 flu vaccines (one in each flu season). Read more about the flu vaccine during pregnancy.
You may be able to get the flu vaccine on the same day as the whooping cough vaccine.
How to get the flu vaccine
You can get your annual flu vaccine from your:
- GP (family doctor)
- Local pharmacist (subject to availability)
- Occupational health department
If you do not have a GP, you can find a GP in your area.
If you are in one of the at-risk groups, you can get your flu vaccine for free.
The vaccine is also free for all children who are aged 2–17 years.
If you do not fall into one of the at-risk groups, check the cost with your GP or pharmacist.