During the 2020-2021 COVID-19 lockdowns, lots of us had to stay home. If we were allowed to leave, we had to wear a face mask. While the lockdowns were difficult, the number of laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza (‘the flu’) in Australia was, thankfully, low.
Fast forward to 2022 and flu cases in Australia are spiking earlier than previous years. So far this year, there have been 87,989 cases of the flu, with 47,860 people diagnosed in the last reported fortnight.
Flu cases usually increase in the colder months, possibly because people get together inside more and have closer contact with one another. But this dramatic increase in flu cases is also because international travel is back and restrictions have relaxed. We’re meeting up with mates again and taking our masks off.
So, if flu case numbers are rising, what’s the best way to protect yourself against the flu?
Having a flu jab every year is the most important way to help prevent the flu and possible complications. This is because the types of influenza viruses that go around often change. Plus, protection from a flu vaccine generally lasts less than a year.
But physical distancing, good hand hygiene, mask wearing and staying home when unwell (which have helped reduce the spread of COVID-19) can also help to stop the spread of influenza.
Why is it necessary to get an influenza shot?
Flu seasons are unpredictable, and the consequences can be devastating. 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 to. Flu vaccination prevents 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. This life-threatening illness can send people to hospital with serious health outcomes. Vaccination saves lives.
Is the flu shot free?
People who are more at risk of severe illness or complications can get a free shot from their immunisation provider. They include:
- children aged 6 months to under 5 years
- people aged older than 65
- pregnant people
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
- people aged 6 months or over who have a long-term medical condition
- people who have weakened immune systems such as HIV
- people who are obese
- people who smoke
- people who haven’t had the flu vaccine
Long-term medical conditions that can lead to you having a serious case of the flu include:
- heart disease
- chronic breathing conditions such as severe asthma, cystic fibrosis and emphysema
- chronic neurological conditions and central nervous system disorders such as epilepsy
- diabetes and other metabolic disorders
- renal failure
- blood disorders
- children on long-term aspirin therapy
These groups are 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.
Free flu shots for more people in 2022
This June, most state and territory governments are giving the flu jab to almost everyone for free.
In Tasmania, you can get a free flu vaccine until Wednesday, 6 July 2022. You can book an appointment at a doctor or participating chemist, or you can walk in to any state-run community clinic to get one.
In Victoria, you can get a free flu vaccine until Sunday, 10 July 2022. You will need to book an appointment at a doctor or participating chemist.
In New South Wales and Queensland, you can get a free flu vaccine until Sunday, 17 July 2022. Contact your doctor or participating chemist to book your free flu vaccine.
In South Australia and Western Australia, you can get a free flu vaccine until Sunday, 31 July 2022. Contact your doctor or participating chemist to book your free flu vaccine. In Western Australia, you can walk in to any state-run clinic to receive one.
In the Australian Capital Territory, you can get a free flu vaccine in 2022 if you are aged 5 years and older and you are with disability, are a carer of a person with disability or have a concession card (including the ACT Services Access Card). You must book an appointment at the Access and Sensory vaccination clinic on 02 5124 7700 to get your free flu shot.
Should kids get the flu shot?
All children aged 6 months to less than 5 years can get a free flu vaccination, since they can become seriously ill with influenza viruses. Some children can get so sick that they must have 2 weeks or more off from preschool or day care. Normally healthy children can suffer from flu-associated complications such pneumonia and encephalitis.
Kids do get the flu. In 2019, reported cases of the flu were the highest in children under the age of 10. 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.
Can I get the flu vaccine on the same day as a COVID-19 vaccine?
Yes. Studies have shown that having these vaccines on the same day is safe and produces a good immune response.
The flu vaccine doesn’t protect you against COVID-19, so make sure that you’re also up to date with COVID-19 vaccinations.
If you’re aged 5 years and over, you can get a COVID-19 vaccination.
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?
FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.
Where to get more information
- Read more about flu vaccines.
- Learn more about COVID-19 and its vaccines.
- Visit the National Immunisation Program (NIP) hub or call the NIP hotline on 1800 671 811.
- Contact your doctor. If you can’t attend the appointment in person, or you’re feeling mild to moderately unwell, you can book a telehealth appointment. This is when you speak to your doctor over the phone or online.
- If you're not sure whether you have the flu or you don't know what to do next, use the healthdirect Symptom Checker. You can also call healthdirect on 1800 022 222 to speak with a registered nurse (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
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