About the flu and the influenza vaccine
Here’s some answers to the most common questions.
What is influenza – ‘The Flu’?
Influenza (the flu) is a highly contagious viral infection of the respiratory tract. It spreads from person to person through the air by coughing or sneezing or by direct contact with the virus on other surfaces (e.g. people’s hands, hard surfaces). Symptoms of influenza are more severe than those of the common cold and can result in days off work and possible hospitalisation and death. Symptoms may include tiredness, high fever, chills, headache, coughing, sneezing, running nose, poor appetite and muscle aches.1
Why should I get the influenza vaccine?
Annual vaccination offers effective protection against influenza. While it does not offer 100% protection, vaccination does decrease your chance of getting influenza and also reduces the severity of the symptoms if you do catch the virus. Getting vaccinated also protects those around you, including pregnant women, babies and young children, older people and people with certain chronic health conditions.2,3)
Can everyone have the flu vaccine?
The Australian Government recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months has a flu vaccine every year. The flu can affect people of all ages, however it’s particularly important for a number of people who are at higher risk than others:
- People over 65 years
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander origin adults over 15 years
- Pregnant women
- People with weakened immune systems or chronic health conditions
- People who are obese
- People who smoke
- People who haven’t been vaccinated against the flu
Children under nine years receiving their influenza vaccination for the first time require two doses of vaccine, spaced by a minimum of one month
Is the influenza vaccine safe?
All influenza vaccines currently available in Australia are associated with a very low incidence of side effects in adults. Vaccines, like all medicines in Australia, must pass stringent safety testing before being approved for use by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.2,3,5
Can I have a flu vaccine if I'm pregnant?
The flu vaccine is safe for both you and your baby when given during pregnancy. The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG) strongly recommends influenza vaccination for pregnant women to protect both the mother and the baby.
What are the possible side effects of the influenza vaccine?
Like with any medication, some people can experience mild side effects from the vaccine. Side effects may include: pain, redness, and swelling at the injection site, low grade fever, headache or muscle aches, tiredness and generally feeling unwell. Most side effects are short-lived (6-12 hours), however, you may also experience mild influenza-like symptoms for up to 48 hours as your immune system responds to the vaccine. It is rare for a severe allergic reaction to occur. If you feel unwell after your vaccination, please see you pharmacist or doctor.2,5
How effective is the influenza vaccine?
No vaccine is 100% effective, however, there is much evidence to show that the influenza vaccine provides a good level of protection against the virus in healthy people. The ability of the influenza vaccine to protect you depends on numerous factors such as your age and health status, as well as how similar the ingredients of the vaccine are compared to the seasonal influenza virus to which you may be exposed. It is important to remember that even when the viruses are not 100% matched, the vaccine can still offer protection and prevent influenza-related complications (e.g. medical complications or hospitalisation).3,5
Will the influenza vaccination give me the flu?
No. The influenza vaccine cannot give you the flu as there is no live influenza virus in the vaccine.3,6
Where is the influenza vaccination administered?
The influenza vaccination is given by intramuscular injection and usually administered into the muscle at the top of the arm, the deltoid muscle.7
How long does it take for the influenza vaccination to be effective?
The flu vaccination normally takes two to three weeks to be fully effective.3
When is it best to be vaccinated against influenza?
As the influenza season normally starts in June, with the peak usually falling around August, vaccinating from April allows individuals to develop immunity before transmission of influenza is commonly at its highest.3
Do I need the influenza vaccination every year?
Yes. Annual vaccination is recommended as immunity from influenza vaccination does not last longer than one season. The composition of the vaccine changes each year to protect against the most recent influenza virus strains.3
I’ve had the flu in the past, do I still need to be vaccinated?
Yes. Vaccination is highly recommended even if you have had influenza before. There are many different strains of the influenza virus that change from year to year, so it is difficult to build immunity without a vaccination.3
Can I have a flu vaccine at the same time as a COVID-19 vaccination?
Yes, you can have a flu vaccine at the same time as a COVID-19 vaccine. Studies show that co-administration of COVID-19 and flu vaccines is safe and produces a good immune response.
- Immunise Australia Program. Influenza (Flu)[Internet]. Canberra: Department of Health; 2018 [updated 9/7/2019; cited 14/1/2020]. Available from: https://beta.health.gov.au/health-topics/flu-influenza.
- Flu (influenza) immunisation service [Internet]. Canberra: Department of Health; 2019 [updated 23/4/2019; cited 14/1/2020]. Available from: https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/immunisation/immunisation-services/flu-influenza-immunisation-service
- National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance. Influenza vaccines fact sheet [Internet]. [Updated March 2019; cited 14/1/2020]. Available from: http://ncirs.org.au/ncirs-fact-sheets-faqs/influenza-vaccines-australians-faqs
- . Australian Government, Dept Health and Ageing, Therapeutic Goods Administration. AIVC recommendations for the composition of influenza vaccine for Australia [Internet]. Available from: https://www.tga.gov.au/aivc-recommendations-composition-influenza-vaccine-australia.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Key facts about seasonal flu vaccine [Internet]. Atlanta,GA:CDC;[updated 2/12/2019; cited 6/12/2019]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/keyfacts.htm.
- Centers for DiseaseControl and Prevention. Flu Vaccine Safety Information [Internet]. Atlanta,GA:CDC;[updated17/9/2019; cited 14/1/2020]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/general.htm.
- Australian Immunisation Handbook. Influenza (flu) [Internet]. Australian Government Department of Health; [updated 20/9/2019; cited 14/1/2020]. Available from: https://immunisationhandbook.health.gov.au/vaccine-preventable-diseases/influenza-flu.