Jump To

 

Introduction

Influenza, commonly referred to as flu, is a common disease of the respiratory system that can affect people of all ages1. It is a serious illness that has a number of severe complications, such as pneumonia, and can even result in death2.

 The virus that causes the flu – the influenza virus – has many different strains that change every year. The virus is easily spread from person to person, usually when an infected person coughs or sneezes2.

Why, and who, should get immunised against the flu?

The flu vaccine – or ‘flu shot’ – is a safe and effective way of protecting yourself against the disease. Not only does it protect you, it also helps to protect the people around you who might be too young or too sick to be vaccinated themselves3.

Anyone can talk to their doctor about protecting themselves from the flu. The Australian Government recommends that all adults and all children over the age of 6 months be immunised against the flu every year3,4.

 When is flu season?

 Flu season typically affects Australians from June to September, with August being the peak4,5.

How can you prepare for the 2019  flu season?

For those who usually don’t have a flu vaccine, 2019 could be a good time to start. Health experts are warning that 2019 is likely to be a ‘killer flu season’ in Australia, with the death toll from flu this year expected to reach 4 000 people (equal to the number of deaths from suicide and road accidents combined). Flu cases in 2019 are already triple that from the same time last year6.

This year, Australia’s Chief Medical Officer recommends that people have the flu vaccine around mid-April. This should allow sufficient time for your body to develop immunity before the start of winter4.

How long does the flu shot last?

Choosing the right time to have your flu vaccine is very important. Evidence suggests that protection from the flu vaccine may begin to fade after three to four months; therefore, having the vaccine too early might mean you will not have full protection towards the end of the flu season5.

Available flu vaccines

The 2019 influenza vaccine protects against four strains of the influenza virus, including H1N1 (also known as swine flu) and H3N2 (a new strain not present in last year’s vaccine). The Australian Government is ensuring the availability of four different flu vaccine brands this year4:

  • Afluria Quad (Seqirus)
  • Flu Quadri (Sanofi)
  • Flu Quadri Junior (Sanofi)
  • Fluarix Tetra (GSK)

A different vaccine – Fluad (Seqirus) – is recommended for people over the age of 65. This is an enhanced trivalent vaccine (meaning it protects against three strains), which health experts believe provides the best possible protection for people in this age group4.

Getting immunised

If you haven’t already, it is recommended that you see your local GP as soon as possible to discuss getting immunised against the flu.

Getting immunised: Vaccine safety

 In Australia, vaccines go through strict testing before approval, ensuring that each vaccine is safe before being made available to the public. This process, which can sometimes take up to 10 years, involves large clinical trials with thousands of people7.

Getting immunised: Common side effects

 Minor side effects can occur after any vaccination. These include mild fever, and pain, redness and/or swelling at the injection site. Generally, these side effects don’t last for more than two days. Fortunately, serious side effects, such as allergic reactions, are extremely rare7.

Getting immunised: Pregnant and breastfeeding women

 The flu vaccine is one of only two vaccines that are recommended during every pregnancy (the other being for whooping cough). It is safe to have at any stage during the pregnancy8. Breastfeeding women can safely receive the flu vaccine9.

Getting immunised: Infants

 It is recommended that all children above the age of 6 months receive the flu vaccine.2,3,4 Children aged 6 months to 9 years who are receiving the flu vaccine for the first time will need to have two doses, 4 weeks apart1.

Getting immunised: Who is eligible for a free flu shot?

 This year, the following groups are eligible for a free flu shot under the National Immunisation Program:4

  • People 65 years and over
  • Pregnant women
  • People with chronic conditions
  • All Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People from 6 months of age

It is also worth checking to see if your state or territory health department is currently funding additional flu vaccines. For example, some states and territories provide free flu vaccines for children aged between 6 months and 5 years of age:

A: Use HealthEngine to find and book your next GP appointment. Click on the following locations to find a GP clinic in your state or territory.

This article is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as medical advice. If in doubt, HealthEngine recommends consulting with a registered health practitioner.

References

  1. Australian Government Department of Health (online). Australian Immunisation Handbook: Influenza (flu) [accessed 17 April 2019]. Available from: URL link
  2. Australian Government Department of Health (online). Flu (influenza) [accessed 17 April 2019]. Available from: URL link
  3. Australian Government Department of Health (online). Flu (influenza) immunisation service [accessed 17 April 2019]. Available from: URL link
  4. Australian Government Department of Health (online). 2019 influenza vaccines [accessed 17 April 2019]. Available from: URL link
  5. RACGP (online). NewsGP: Taking steps to combat another deadly flu season [accessed 17 April 2019]. Available from: URL link
  6. ABC (online). Australia on track for killer flu season as experts urge public to get vaccinated [accessed 17 April 2019]. Available from: URL link
  7. Australian Government Department of Health (online). Are vaccines safe? [accessed 17 April 2019]. Available from: URL link
  8. Australian Government Department of Health (online). Immunisation for pregnancy [accessed 17 April 2019]. Available from: URL link
  9. Australian Government Department of Health (online). Australian Immunisation Handbook: Vaccination for women who are planning pregnancy, pregnant or breastfeeding [accessed 17 April 2019]. Available from: URL link