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When is it ideal to get the flu vaccine?
Why get the flu vaccine?
Who should get the flu vaccine?
Where can I get a flu vaccine?
The vaccine
Is it free?
Side effects & safety
Can I leave home to get a vaccine?

Australians are being encouraged to get their flu vaccination earlier than usual this year. Normally the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) advises people to wait until May to get their flu vaccine, but with the Covid-19 pandemic upon us, this is not a normal season[1]

When is it ideal to get the flu vaccine?

Now is a good time to get your flu vaccine.

Why get the flu vaccine?

The influenza vaccine doesn’t provide protection against Covid-19, but it is still important to get a flu vaccine for several reasons. Firstly a large number of flu patients would put huge strain on the health system [1,2]. If many flu patients and Covid-19 patients require urgent health care at the same time then lives may be at risk. 

Also, having a flu vaccine protects yourself, your family and the community. Seasonal influenza can lower a person’s immunity, making them susceptible to other illnesses, including Covid-19. The flu can even cause very serious illness in otherwise healthy people [2]. Influenza is an infection of the airways which can cause severe complications, such as pneumonia, and even death [3]. Getting the flu vaccination protects others, such as those who are too young or sick to be vaccinated, and vulnerable groups such as babies, older people and pregnant women [2].

Who should get the flu vaccine?

The Australian government is recommending that everyone aged over 6 months is vaccinated against seasonal flu [2] (unless medically contraindicated). You need to get the influenza vaccine every year, because the vaccine changes to match the different strains of influenza virus, as these change each year [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 apart [4].

Where can I get a flu vaccine?

The influenza vaccine is available from immunisation providers including GPs, pharmacies, community immunisation clinics, Aboriginal Medical Services and some workplaces. Always phone ahead to check if the provider has the appropriate vaccines in stock and to make a booking if necessary (this is definitely necessary with GPs).

To find an immunisation provider near you:

The vaccine

Age-specific quadrivalent influenza vaccines (QIVs) i.e. vaccines containing 4 strains of the virus, are available for people aged between 6 months and 65 years. For those aged 65 years and over, a new adjuvanted QIV is available in 2020 which should be given in preference to other QIVs [3].

Is it free?

Vaccines covered by the National Immunisation Program (NIP) are free to people who are eligible. Individuals eligible to receive 2020 NIP-funded influenza vaccines are [5]:

  • pregnant women (at any stage of pregnancy)
  • people aged 65 years and over
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 6 months and over
  • people aged 6 months to 5 years (new category this year)
  • people aged 6 months and over with medical conditions putting them at increased risk of severe influenza and its complications [4]

Side effects & safety

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 rare [6].

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 pregnancy. Breastfeeding women can also safely receive the flu vaccine [7].

Can I leave home to get a vaccine?

Although Australians are being asked to stay at home as much as possible to reduce the spread of Covid-19, it is legal in all states to leave home to seek medical care. Immunisation providers have measures in place to minimise any chances of disease spreading, but to help the cause it is advised to phone ahead before arriving for vaccination, use personal transport as much as possible and arrive for your appointment time without having extra time in the waiting room [2].

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References

1. The Canberra Times (online). Covid-19: Australians urged to get flu vaccines early to ease pressure. Accessed 22 April 2020. https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/6705180/public-urged-to-get-early-flu-vaccines-due-to-coronavirus/
2. ABC (online). Get flu vaccinations earlier than usual because of coronavirus, GPs urge Australians. Accessed 22 April 2020.https://www.abc.net.au/news/health/2020-04-01/australians-urged-to-get-flu-vaccination-coronavirus-covid-19/12107264
3. Australian Government Department of Health (online). Flu (influenza). Accessed 22 April 2020.https://beta.health.gov.au/health-topics/flu-influenza
4. Australian Government Department of Health (online). Flu (influenza) immunisation service. Accessed 22 April 2020. https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/immunisation/immunisation-services/flu-influenza-immunisation-service
5. Australian Government Department of Health (online). National Immunisation Program schedule. Accessed 22 April 2020.https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/immunisation/immunisation-throughout-life/national-immunisation-program-schedule%E3
6. Australian Government Department of Health (online). Are vaccines safe? Accessed 22 April 2020.https://beta.health.gov.au/health-topics/immunisation/getting-started/are-vaccines-safe
7. Australian Government Department of Health (online). Australian Immunisation Handbook: Vaccination for Women who are planning pregnancy, pregnant or breastfeeding. Accessed 22 April 2020.https://immunisationhandbook.health.gov.au/resources/publications/vaccination-for-women-who-are-planning-pregnancy-pregnant-or-breastfeeding