The Flu Vaccine

The Flu Vaccine

The flu (influenza) vaccine is a safe and effective way to protect you from the influenza virus.

What is the flu virus?

The flu is a highly infectious and acute respiratory (breathing) illness that is caused by the influenza virus. It affects people of all ages and commonly occurs during the winter months.

The flu vaccine

The flu vaccine encourages your body to produce antibodies against the influenza virus. Antibodies are proteins produced by your body to destroy disease and infection. They protect you from becoming ill if you are infected with the virus.

It is recommended that you vaccinate against the flu virus between September and October each year for maximum protection. It is given in one single injection, usually in the upper arm.

The influenza virus strain can change from year to year, so it is important to vaccinate against the virus every year. The flu virus strains immunized against each year are based on doctors and scientists’ best estimates of the active flu viruses going around that season. Unfortunately, this means that the flu vaccine cannot provide 100% protection against all possible flu illness in any given year. However, vaccination against the flu virus significantly reduces the chance of serious or life-threatening disease even if you pick up a strain not specifically vaccinated against in that year. More information on the flu viruses circulating this season can be found here


Who should get the vaccine?

Although anyone can get the flu, people living with a chronic medical condition are particularly vulnerable to a severe reaction to the virus.

The HSE strongly also recommends the flu vaccine for:

  • Persons aged 65 years and over
  • Those aged six months and older with a long-term health condition such as
    • Chronic heart disease (this includes anyone who has a history of having a “heart attack” or unstable angina)
    • Chronic liver disease
    • Chronic renal failure
    • Chronic respiratory disease, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis, moderate or severe asthma or bronchopulmonary dysplasia
    • Chronic neurological disease including multiple sclerosis, hereditary and degenerative disorders of the central nervous system
    • Diabetes mellitus
    • Down syndrome
    • Haemoglobinopathies
    • Morbid obesity, if your body mass index is over 40
    • Immunosuppression due to disease or treatment (these include anyone on treatment for cancer)
  • Children aged six months and older
    • with any condition that can affect lung function especially those attending special schools/day centres with cerebral palsy or intellectual disability
    • on long-term aspirin therapy (because of the risk of Reyes syndrome)
  • Pregnant women (the flu vaccine can be given at any stage of pregnancy)
  • Healthcare workers
  • Residents of nursing homes and other long stay institutions
  • Carers (the main carers of those in the at-risk groups)
  • People with regular contact with pigs, poultry or waterfowl

Flu Symptoms

For some people, it can be difficult to tell the difference between a cold and the flu. The flu comes on quite suddenly with fever, muscle aches and pains.  A cold, however, is a much less severe illness than the flu, symptoms are gradual and include a sore throat and a blocked or a runny nose.  The HSE have provided a chart to help you to distinguish between cold and flu symptoms.

Symptoms Seasonal flu Cold
Fever High fever lasts 3-4 days Rare
Headache Prominent Rare
General aches, pains Usual; often severe Slight
Fatigue, weakness Can last up to 2-3 weeks Quite mild
Extreme exhaustion Early and prominent Never
Stuffy nose Sometimes Common
Sneezing Sometimes Usual
Sore throat Sometimes Common
Chest discomfort, cough Common; can become severe Mild to moderate; a hacking cough


Top Tips for dealing with the Flu

Most people recover from the flu within a week and without seeking medical care.

However, if you experience severe symptoms or belong to any of the high-risk groups listed above, you should contact reception on 091 740340  and make an appointment with your Doctor.

The HSE recommend people with the flu should:

  • Stay at home for up to 7 days or until you fully recover – do not go to work or school while ill
  • Rest in bed as much as possible
  • Take medicines such as paracetamol or ibuprofen to reduce the symptoms
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Discourage any visitors
  • Contact your GP surgery by telephone if you don’t improve, or if you start to improve and then get worse

If you have taken the basic care steps outlined above and your start to feel worse, you may need more advice from your Doctor. Please contact reception on 091 740340 for more information or to book you appointment.


Side-effects of the Flu Vaccine

Like most vaccines, you may experience some mild side-effects including:

  • redness, itching, pain, hardness and swelling around the site of injection
  • muscle ache, headache, and
  • feeling tired.

Aside from an extremely small risk of serious allergic reaction, there are no serious side-effects associated with the flu vaccine.

* Given the time of year that the flu shot is recommended (September/October), it is not unusual for patients to experience some “cold” type symptoms in the weeks following the flu vaccination. This experience is unfortunate but coincidental, and not related to receipt of the flu vaccine – the flu vaccine does not contain any active virus and cannot cause the flu.


How much does it cost?

The flu vaccine and its administration are free for patients in high-risk groups who are covered under the Medical Card or GP Visit Card Schemes.

For private patients/children older than six years who are in high-risk groups, the flu vaccine itself is free, but vaccination incurs an administration fee of €20.

Other patients who are not in high-risk groups may still elect to have the flu vaccination; this will incur a €20 charge for the vaccine and an additional €20 for administration of the vaccine.

Please contact reception on 091 740340 for more information or to book you appointment.

Useful Links:

HSE – Patient information leaflet for the flu vaccine

HSE – Patient information leaflet for pregnant women and the flu vaccine

HSE – FAQs on the flu vaccine




Content developed from HSE and NHS Choices is adapted for Galway East Medical Practice by Galway East Medical Practice.

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