Seven key questions about the flu vaccine

By Helen Truscott RN, RN., RM., DipWHS., GradDipTMH., MPH, CICP-A
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With so much focus on the COVID-19 vaccine, it’s timely to remind people of the importance of another vaccine that plays a vital role in combatting illness – vaccination against influenza. The flu is a highly contagious viral infection that takes a heavy toll each year and while increased hand washing and social distancing may have lessened its impact in 2020, the flu shot remains the best defence against the virus.

Given the number of people who quiz me about the flu vaccine, here are answers to seven of the most common questions that get thrown my way.

Who should have the flu shot?
It is difficult to predict who will catch influenza, let alone who will become seriously ill from it, and that’s why the Australian Government recommends every person older than six months has a flu vaccination every year. It not only helps protect you but those around you, particularly vulnerable people who can’t be vaccinated such as babies younger than six months and adults with low immunity.

When should I have the flu shot?
Flu season in Australia typically runs from June to September, peaking in August. With our immunity strongest and most effective for up to four months after we are vaccinated, before the end of May is ideal but not essential.

Can I get the flu vaccine and COVID-19 vaccine at the same time?
You can get both – but not on the same day. It’s recommended that you wait at least 14 days between the two doses so ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice about scheduling the shots.

Can I get the flu from the flu shot?
A definitive no. The flu vaccines used in Australia are ‘inactivated’ – as in they do not contain the live flu virus. While some people experience side effects from the flu shot that are similar to the early signs of the flu (eg: fever, tiredness, muscle aches), they usually go away on their own. The key thing to remember is any side effects are a positive sign as they show the vaccine is doing exactly what it’s designed to do – triggering an immune response.

Do I need a different vaccine if I’m a child, pregnant or elderly?
Children, adults and pregnant women typically get the same vaccine but children under nine years of age who have not been vaccinated before will need two doses at least four weeks apart. The enhanced Fluad Quad vaccine is also available for people aged 65 and older. Influenza can be a very serious disease in pregnancy, with additional risk of complications. You can get the vaccine for free as part of the National Immunisation Program (NIP)

Why should I bother getting the flu vaccine if there’s a chance I’ll still get the flu?
It’s true the vaccine is not effective in every case but it significantly reduces the risk of illness. Flu vaccination prevents illness in up to 60 per cent of healthy adults under than age of 65 and while most people who get the flu recover without lasting effects, it can cause hospitalisation and even death. It is impossible to predict who will be severely affected and getting the vaccine not only reduces your chances of getting the flu but its severity if you do.

Where I can get a flu shot?
Free flu vaccines are provided to people with higher risk of complications from flu including children aged six months to five years, all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged six months and older, people with certain medical conditions, pregnant women and people aged 65 and older. Visit the National Health Services Directory to locate a service in your area. People ineligible for a free flu vaccine can purchase one from their GP, a pharmacy or another immunisation provider.

For more information, click here.


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