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:
- people aged 65 and older
- pregnant women
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
- people with certain medical conditions, including:
- heart disease
- respiratory conditions such as severe asthma, cystic fibrosis and emphysema
- neurological conditions and central nervous system disorders such as epilepsy
- conditions that compromise the immune system, such as HIV
- diabetes and chronic metabolic disorders
- chronic renal failure
- blood disorders
- children on long-term aspirin therapy
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.