The flu vaccine protects you from getting influenza, a common illness caused by the influenza viruses (A and B). The infection affects the nose, throat, bronchi and occassionally, the lungs.
Each year the vaccine is different, and contains the latest, most common strains of the virus. You need to have the vaccination every year to remain protected.
The flu vaccine contains fragments of three or four (trivalent or quadrivalent) different types of influenza virus. The virus in the vaccine has been killed. Therefore, the vaccine cannot give you or your child “the flu”.
The flu virus can spread very easily, usually when an infected person sneezes or coughs, releasing droplets that contain the virus into the air. These droplets can be breathed in by others, or transferred to anyone who may touch a contaminated surface.
Typically, flu season affects Australia from June to September, with the peak being August. Recent evidence suggests that protection following flu vaccination may begin to wear off after three to four months, so timing of vaccination is critical. Recent recommendations have been to get vaccination in late April-early May.
The following are strongly recommended to have the vaccine every year to protect themselves, or to prevent spreading flu.
- Aged 6 months to 5 years
- Aged 6 months and over who were born with heart or circulatory problems
- Older than 6 months who need long-term aspirin treatment
Children and Adults
- With breathing problems due to severe asthma, lung disease, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- With conditions that affect breathing including multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, and seizure disorders
- With a weakened immune system (e.g. due to HIV infection, cancer and some medicines)
- With type 1 or type 2 diabetes
- With kidney disease
- With Down syndrome
- Who are obese (i.e. a BMI >30 kg/m2)
- Who are homeless
- Travelling to countries where it is winter
- Who are 65 years and older, and those living in aged care facilities
- Aged 15 years and older living in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
- Who are health workers, who care for children or older people, or who provide essential services
- Pregnant women – flu vaccines can be given at any stage of pregnancy. It is recommended that you have the flu vaccine in Autumn if you will be, or are planning to be, pregnant during winter
- Women who are breastfeeding – there is no known risk to your baby if you are vaccinated with the flu vaccine while you are breastfeeding
Who is eligible for free flu vaccinations?
- Pregnant women – The flu vaccine is free every year for pregnant women (at any stage of pregnancy), people aged 65 years and over, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 6 months to under 5 years and 15 years or older.
The vaccine is also free to anyone older than 6 months with any of the following medical conditions:
- Heart disease
- Severe asthma
- A long-term lung condition (e.g. cystic fibrosis)
- Long-term illness requiring medical treatment or hospitalisation the previous year
- Nervous system disorder (e.g. multiple sclerosis)
- A weakened immune system
- Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes
- Children aged 6 months to 10 years on long-term aspirin treatment
Not free but highly recommended
In addition to those eligible for the free flu vaccine, the following groups are strongly recommended to have the vaccine:
- Health care workers
- Anyone who works in a nursing home or long term care facility
- Anyone who lives in a household with a person who is in a high risk category
- people providing essential services, for example police or ambulance officers
- Staff working in early childhood education and care
- Anyone providing care to homeless people
- Workers in other industries (corporations wishing to reduce absenteeism in the work force)
Cost of flu vaccine can range from $10 to $25 to purchase. Contact your GP, local pharmacy or council for more information and eligibility. For further information on the Annual Influenza Program contact your doctor at any of our Pro health Care practices.
Pro Medical SA, Dr Neelam Khanna, General Practitioner