Dr Norman Swan

Physician, journalist & broadcaster

Whether at the movies, on the bus or in a crowd at the football, seeing strangers cough and sneeze reminds us COVID-19 isn’t the only respiratory virus to be wary of. With cooler weather on the way it’s time to protect yourself against flu season. Here’s what the ABC’s Dr Norman Swan has to say about what to expect this winter, and answer all your questions about the flu vaccine.

Should I get the 2023 flu vaccine?

“The flu season is upon us so you know what I’m going say next: go and get your immunisation,” Dr Swan says.
As with COVID-19, immunisation is the best way to reduce your chances of getting really sick with the highly transmissible influenza virus which causes chills and fever, body aches, lingering cough, sneezes and can lead to secondary infections.
“Immunisation protects you against hospitalisation, severe disease, and even death,” Dr Swan says. “It’s particularly important in young people, the elderly and anybody who’s pregnant.”

How do I get the 2023 flu vaccine?

“Talk to your GP, talk to your pharmacist – just get it,” Dr Swan, says, adding that vaccination supplies have arrvied so there’s plenty available for every Australian over six months. “They’ve got it in stock.” While there’s a strong emphasis on vaccinating the very young and the very old, Dr Swan reminds us no one actually wants to get sick with influenza which can require one to two weeks recovery time even in healthy people. “People in those in-between years, you should be getting shots as well because you don’t want to get unnecessarily sick from this disease,” Dr Swan says.

Who can get the 2023 flu vaccine for free?

According to The Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care, “the National Immunisation Program free influenza vaccines are provided to the following high risk groups:

  • children aged six months to less than five years;
  • all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged six months and over;
  • people aged six months and over with certain medical conditions that increase their chance of severe influenza and its complications;
  • pregnant women (at any stage during pregnancy);
  • people aged 65 years and over.

Anyone else can pay for the vaccine from their vaccine provider – usually your GP or pharmacy for around $20 to $25.

Should I vaccinate my children against the flu?

Given how quickly viruses can circulate among children at daycare, kindergarten and preschool, under-fives are considered a high priority group this year. “What a lot of people don’t recognise or know is that it’s highly recommended for children from six months,” Dr Swan says. “It’s also strongly recommended for the elderly, but everybody should have their flu shot. It’s important to protect yourself against severe disease and hospitalisation. So get it.”

What’s the best time to get a flu shot in Australia 2023?

Typically flu cases grow when the temperatures drop and we all huddle inside together.

“Prior to the pandemic, cases usually increased through May, peaked in August, then waned in October,” Professor Barr said. “But this timing may be altered due to COVID-19.” Keeping in mind it can take up to two weeks post-jab to develop immunity, now is the perfect time to get your flu vaccine before an early-winter surge.

Can I get the flu and COVID-19 vaccines at the same time?

Absolutely, you can have both vaccinations at the same appointment. There is no medical reason to separate your vaccinations, so if you’re eligible for both, it’s a great idea to get both ASAP.