Most Australians will benefit from having a yearly flu vaccination. Getting vaccinated against flu involves having an injection, which is usually given into the upper arm. A nurse or doctor can give the injection, which only takes a few seconds. Some people refer to it as a ‘flu jab’.
Flu vaccines are generally given around the start of winter to give you protection over the flu season. The vaccines change each year, based on predictions of which flu strains will be most active in that coming winter.
When to get a flu vaccine
In most parts of Australia, the influenza season (the time of year when most people get flu) happens between June and September. Getting immunised at the beginning of winter is usually recommended to give you the best chance of being protected against flu throughout winter and at the peak of flu season (around August). That’s because you have the highest immunity for the 3 to 4 months after having a flu shot.
As it’s possible to be infected at any time of the year, you can be vaccinated after winter, providing that year’s flu vaccines are still available. This is particularly relevant to overseas travellers and pregnant women wanting protection from influenza.
Remember, it’s important to get re-vaccinated every year to protect yourself against the common strains of flu virus that are circulating that year.
Where to get vaccinated
In Australia, influenza vaccines are available from general practitioners (GPs), pharmacies (you may need to book an appointment), vaccination clinics, or as part of a workplace flu vaccination programme. Always check with your immunisation provider about the cost beforehand, even if you are are eligible for free flu vaccinations, because you may be charged a consultation fee.
2018 influenza vaccines in Australia
Influenza vaccines are formulated to protect against the most common strains of influenza that are circulating each year. Influenza A and influenza B are the 2 main types of influenza virus that cause disease in humans.
The 2018 flu vaccines in Australia protect against 2 types of influenza A and one or 2 strains of influenza B. The vaccines that contain 4 strains of flu virus are called quadrivalent influenza vaccines; those that contain 3 strains are called trivalent influenza vaccines.
Influenza viruses are named after their subtype (in the case of influenza A viruses), their strain (both influenza A and B viruses are classified into strains), and the place and year that they originated.
The strains included in the 2018 southern hemisphere seasonal influenza vaccines include:
- Influenza A (H1N1) - an A/Michigan/45/2015 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus
- Influenza A (H3N2) - an A/Singapore/INFIMH-16-0019/2016 (H2N2)-like virus
- Influenza B - a B/Phuket/3073/2013-like virus
- Influenza B - a B/Brisbane/60/2008-like virus (not included in trivalent influenza vaccines)
Flu vaccines for children and adults in 2018
Quadrivalent influenza vaccines are generally recommended for children and adults younger than 65 years. Those available in 2018 in Australia include:
- For children 6 months to 3 years: FluQuadri Junior
- For children aged 3 years and older, plus adults: FluQuadri, Fluarix Tetra
- For adults only: Afluria Quad, Influvac Tetra
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.
Flu vaccines for older people in 2018
Vaccination is important for people aged 65 years and older. That’s because people in this age group can become very ill with influenza and have the highest risk of complications associated with seasonal influenza.
In 2018, two trivalent flu vaccines have been specifically developed for use in people aged 65 years and older. These vaccines - Fluzone High-Dose and Fluad - are thought to offer better protection from influenza and are recommended over quadrivalent vaccines for older people. They are available for free for people aged 65 years and older.
Side effects are slightly more common with these special vaccines compared with standard trivalent vaccines. However, most people still only have mild side effects, such as pain and redness where the injection was given, muscle aches, headache, fever and tiredness. There is no increased risk of severe side effects, such as anaphylaxis (a severe allergic reaction), compared with standard flu vaccines.
Side effects of flu vaccines
Side effects are usually mild and occur within the first 24 to 48 hours following immunisation. Common side effects associated with influenza vaccination include soreness and redness 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 2018. There are other brands of vaccine that are recommended for use in children.
In general, the risk of severe side effects from influenza vaccines is much smaller than the risk of serious complications from having flu.
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.
Some people who are eligible for free vaccination may still be charged a consultation fee to receive the vaccine – check with your immunisation provider.
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;
- people working in aged-care facilities;
- young children (between 6 months and 5 years of age);
- women planning a pregnancy;
- people who are obese;
- those with liver disease; and
- people planning travel during influenza season.
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. Getting your child immunised is the best way to protect them against influenza and its potentially serious complications.
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.
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.
2. Australian Government Department of Health. National Immunisation Program. The flu vaccine: your best shot at stopping the flu. Information for consumers in 2018. https://beta.health.gov.au/resources/publications/the-flu-vaccine-information-for-consumers-in-2018-fact-sheet (accessed Apr 2018).
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6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Types of influenza viruses (updated 27 Sep 2017). https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/viruses/types.htm (accessed Mar 2018).