It seems ‘timing is everything’ when it comes to vaccinating against influenza, with some experts concerned that people are getting the injection too early.
While many pharmacies are promoting the flu vaccine right now, the president of the Australian Medical Association (AMA), Dr Michael Gannon, says it’s better for some patients to get their flu shot “well into April”.
“We are concerned when pharmacies are out there advertising early flu shots at a time that might not be clinically appropriate,” Dr Gannon told the ABC.
According to the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), protection following flu vaccination may begin to wear off after 3 to 4 months, with the shot losing 6% to 11% effectiveness per month.
So, being vaccinated at the right time – not too early, not too late – should reduce your risk of catching the flu for the length of the season.
Flu season in Australia is typically the period from June to September, peaking in August. May is considered the best month to get your shot. RACGP president Dr Bastian Seidel says GPs are the best-placed health professionals to advise individuals on when to get the flu vaccine, and to provide it.
“Australians should speak to their GP about timing of influenza vaccination that suits their individual needs and circumstances,” Dr Seidel says. “GPs are up-to-date on when the flu season will affect Australian patients and will continue to offer vaccinations throughout the flu season. The last thing we want to see this year is patients doing the right thing and receiving a flu vaccination, only for the vaccination wear off by the time we reach flu season.”
In 2017, there were 745 deaths from confirmed influenza Australia-wide, more than in any previous year. More than 9 in 10 people who died from the flu were aged 65 and older.
Ultimately, getting the flu shot any time is better than not getting it at all. And for many consumers, it’s free – funded by the National Immunisation Program (NIP). The government recommends that people in the following groups do not miss their free flu vaccine since they’re most at risk of complications from the flu:
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons aged 6 months to 5 years, or older than 15
- Adults aged 65 and over
- Babies aged 6 months and over who have certain medical conditions that increase the risk of influenza complications: for example, severe asthma, lung or heart disease, low immunity or diabetes (ask your child's doctor)
- Pregnant women – during any stage of pregnancy. (This also provides some protection for the baby.)
- Children aged between 6 months and 5 years in all states and territories except the NT.
Many more children and adults with certain medical conditions are eligible for a free vaccination: for example, heart disease, severe asthma, HIV, diabetes, seizure disorders and renal failure. Ask your doctor if you’re eligible.
For more information about the flu vaccine, speak to your GP, visit the National Immunisation Program or call the NIP hotline on 1800 671 811 between 8am and 5pm AEST.
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