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Should I bother getting a flu vaccination in Australia in 2021?

Blog post | 06 May 2021

In 2020, the number of laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza (‘the flu’) in Australia was, thankfully, very low. There were about 21,200 cases, and 37 people died from the flu. Compare this to the year before (2019), when there were more than 289,000 cases of confirmed influenza in Australia and more than 700 deaths.

This dramatic drop in flu cases could be thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Physical distancing, good hand hygiene, mask wearing and staying home when unwell are all practices that have helped reduce the spread of COVID-19. These practices may also have curtailed the spread of influenza.

So, if flu case numbers were so low last year, and people don’t leave their home with the tiniest cough, should you bother getting vaccinated against the flu?

Seriously, why get a flu shot?

Flu seasons are unpredictable and the consequences can be tragic. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in a typical year, up to 650,000 people die from influenza globally.

It’s important to get vaccinated if you’re able. Flu vaccination is very effective — preventing illness in up to 6 out of 10 people who are younger than 65. This figure varies year by year.

Getting vaccinated helps protect people who can’t have the vaccine for health reasons. It also protects certain groups of people more at risk of severe illness or complications if infected with the flu. Among high-risk individuals, the flu can trigger complications such as pneumonia, which can require hospitalisation and lead to death. Vaccination saves lives.

Those who are more at risk of severe illness or complications include:

These groups are also eligible for a free flu vaccination under the National Immunisation Program (NIP) schedule. Read more about the NIP schedule on health.gov.au.

Another reason to get the flu jab? Getting COVID-19 and the flu at the same time could make you very sick.

Groups at risk of flu complications who are entitled to free flu vaccines.

Kids get free flu shots

All children aged 6 months to less than 5 years are entitled to a free flu vaccination, since they can become seriously ill with influenza viruses. Normally healthy children can suffer from flu-associated complications such as pneumonia and encephalitis.

And kids do get the flu: in 2017, approximately 1 in 400 children in Australia had laboratory-confirmed influenza.

Children aged 6 months to less than 9 years who are getting the flu shot for the first time need 2 doses, given at least 4 weeks apart.

Does the COVID-19 vaccine rollout affect the flu vaccine rollout?

No. The COVID-19 vaccine rollout will not affect the supply of flu vaccines in Australia. The influenza vaccine rollout has started and is continuing as normal.

You should book a COVID-19 vaccination as soon as you’re eligible (to find out if you are, use the simple Vaccine Eligibility Checker). Then, get your flu vaccine at least 7 days before or after any dose of the COVID-19 vaccine (both AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines require 2 doses).

Flu symptoms can be very similar to the symptoms of COVID-19. Even if your symptoms are mild, get tested for COVID-19 immediately — use the colds and flu Symptom Checker if you're not sure what to do.

How do I get the flu vaccine?

Flu vaccines are available now in Australia — including free ones under the National Immunisation Program schedule. Vaccinating in autumn will help protect you, and others, before the influenza season starts (usually June to September, peaking in August).

Book your flu shot today. Contact your GP, pharmacist or health provider.

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