Most Australians will benefit from having a yearly vaccination to protect against influenza (flu). Flu vaccine is usually given before the start of winter, and changes each year based on predictions of which flu strains will be most active in that coming winter.
Flu vaccine in Australia 2017
In 2017 there are 4 age-specific influenza vaccines available through the National Immunisation Program, free of charge for eligible people. All vaccines protect against 4 strains of flu virus.
The 2 main types of influenza virus that cause disease in humans are influenza A and influenza B. Strains of influenza virus are named after the place where they originated. The strains that the 2017 vaccines protect against include:
- 2 strains of influenza A (Michigan and Hong Kong); and
- 2 strains of influenza B (Brisbane and Phuket).
Your doctor will be able to advise you on the most appropriate vaccine for you and your family, based on your age, vaccine availability and eligibility to receive vaccination free of charge.
Side effects are usually mild and occur within the first 24 to 48 hours following immunisation. Some common side effects associated with influenza vaccination include soreness at the injection site and fever.
One brand of influenza vaccine used in 2010 was associated with more serious side effects in children younger than 5 years, including high fever. This brand of vaccine – Fluvax – is not being used for children in this age group and is not recommended for children aged younger than 9 years in Australia in 2017. There are several other brands of vaccine that are recommended for use in children.
Can I get flu from the flu vaccine?
Flu vaccines do not contain any live virus, so it is not possible to get flu from the vaccines.
Some people may feel tired and have muscle aches or a mild fever after having a flu vaccination. These are side effects of the vaccine, not symptoms of the flu. These side effects may start a few hours after vaccination and last for a couple of days, and occur in only a small proportion of people (up to 10 per cent).
Flu vaccination for special groups
Influenza vaccination is especially important for some people, including:
- people aged 65 years and older;
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 6 months to less than 5 years and 15 years and older;
- pregnant women; and
- people with medical conditions that put them at risk of severe influenza (such as heart disease, severe asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), impaired immunity and diabetes).
These people are at increased risk of severe illness and complications from influenza such as bronchitis and pneumonia. Influenza vaccine is available to these people free of charge through the National Immunisation Program. Contact your doctor, pharmacy or local vaccination clinic to make an appointment to receive your free vaccine if you are eligible.
Vaccination is also strongly recommended for certain other people at increased risk from flu and its complications who are not eligible for free vaccination under the National Immunisation Program. These people include:
- healthcare and childcare workers;
- young children (between 6 months and 5 years of age);
- people who are obese;
- those with liver disease; and
- people planning travel during influenza season.
Getting vaccinated against influenza can not only protect you from getting the flu, but also those around you. It’s especially important if you are in close contact with people who are at increased risk from influenza, such as older people, young children or those with health problems.
Older people and flu
Vaccination is recommended for people aged 65 years and older because people in this age group can become very ill with influenza and have the highest risk of complications associated with seasonal influenza.
Pregnant women and influenza
Pregnancy can increase your risk of severe influenza and complications related to influenza infection. The influenza vaccine is safe to receive at any stage during pregnancy. Vaccination during pregnancy can also provide protection from flu to newborn babies of vaccinated mothers.
Children and influenza
Children can be immunised against the flu from 6 months of age.
Children younger than 9 years of age should have 2 doses of vaccine at least 4 weeks apart in the first year they are vaccinated. They will need only one dose in subsequent years. Children older than 9 years require only one dose of influenza vaccine.
There are specific brands of flu vaccine that are suitable for children of different ages. Make sure you tell the immunisation provider your child’s age so that they receive the most appropriate vaccine.
In Australia, the 2017 influenza vaccines are available from April 2017 from general practitioners (GPs) and other immunisation providers such as pharmacies (you may need to book an appointment online), vaccination clinics, or as part of a workplace flu vaccination programme.
Influenza is usually most common around August in Australia. Your doctor can advise you on the best time to be vaccinated against influenza so that you are protected throughout winter.
Some people who are eligible for free vaccination may still be charged a consultation fee to receive the vaccine – check with your immunisation provider.
2. Immunise Australia Program. Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) advice for immunisation providers regarding the administration of seasonal influenza vaccines in 2017 (updated 6 Mar 2017). http://www.immunise.health.gov.au/internet/immunise/publishing.nsf/Content/ATAGI-advice-influenza-vaccines-providers (accessed Mar 2017).
3. Immunise Australia Program. The Australian Immunisation Handbook 10th Edition. 4.7 Influenza (updated 6 Mar 2017). http://www.immunise.health.gov.au/internet/immunise/publishing.nsf/Content/Handbook10-home~handbook10part4~handbook10-4-7 (accessed Mar 2017).