What is flu?
Flu is a disease that infects the nose, throat, and lungs. It is caused by the flu virus (influenza virus). You can get flu from other people. Catching a cold is not the same as flu. Flu spreads very easily and can have very serious consequences. Flu can cause pneumonia, heart problems or make an existing health problem worse. Every year about 4,700 people die because of the flu. Elderly people with health problems like diabetes, a weak immune system or heart, lung or kidney diseases are most in danger from the flu. That is why these people will get an invitation to have a free flu vaccine every year. The flu vaccine is the best protection against the flu. A flu vaccine is also sometimes called a jab, prick, needle or immunisation.
Video about the flu and flu vaccine
How does the flu vaccine work?
The flu vaccine does not protect 100%. It will decrease the chance of getting the flu. And if you do get the flu, the flu vaccine will usually make you less seriously ill.
When you get the flu vaccine, your body will make antibodies against the flu. Antibodies are proteins in your blood that protect you from infections. The flu antibodies your body makes after a flu vaccine will lower your chance of getting the flu. You cannot get the flu from the flu vaccine.
The flu vaccine is very safe. The flu vaccine has been given to lots of people for many years. Sometimes after a flu vaccine, you might get side effects. These are mild. Your arm where you got your vaccine might be painful, red or a little bit swollen. This will go away after one to two days. Side effects show that the vaccine is working, as the vaccine makes your immune system ready to fight a real flu infection.
After your flu vaccine, it takes two or three weeks until you are protected. The flu vaccine does not protect you 100% from catching flu. After your flu vaccine, you can sometimes still get the flu, but you will be less sick because of your flu vaccine.
How do I get the flu vaccine?
Every year in October and November, about six million people get an invitation to have the flu vaccine. If you are 60 years of age or older or you have a health condition that makes flu more serious, you will automatically get an invitation letter from your GP. This is because you are in a target group for flu vaccination. In the invitation letter, you will be given a date and time for getting the flu vaccine.
You do not have to get the flu vaccine if you do not want to. It is your own decision.
Who is in the target group?
The target group who can get the free flu vaccine includes:
- People aged 60 or older
- Children and adults with certain health problems, including:
- Patients who have permanent lung damage because of an infection with COVID-19
- Patients with abnormalities and functional disorders of the airways and lungs
- Patients with a chronic heart disorder
- Patients with diabetes mellitus
- Patients with a chronic kidney disease
- Patients who recently had a bone marrow transplant
- People who are infected with HIV
- People with reduced resistance to infection (e.g., because of (functional) asplenia, auto-immune disease, liver cirrhosis, chemotherapy or immunosuppressive medication)
- People with dementia
- People with obesity (a BMI of 40 or higher)
- People with a cochlear implant
- Patients with neurological and neuromuscular disorders
- Children aged between 6 months and 18 years who are long-term salicylate users
- Women who are 22 weeks or more pregnant
- People with an intellectual disability
- People who are living in a nursing home, who are not included in one of the above categories
Why do I need to have a new flu vaccine every year?
The flu virus changes all the time. That’s why an infection or vaccine does not give you lifelong protection. The flu vaccine needs to be changed every year to match the changes in the flu virus. So, if you are in the target group, it is important to get a new flu vaccine every year.
Infographic about the flu and the flu vaccine
Click on the picture for the full infographic.
You can download the infographic about the flu vaccine. It will be sent to you with your invitation letter. The invitation letter for the seasonal flu vaccination is also available for download below.