Notifications of confirmed influenza have been much higher so far this year compared to the same period last year. So now is a very good time to think about getting a flu shot.
Vaccination is your best chance for protection against the flu, and it helps protect the people around you who are not able to have a flu shot (such as babies aged less than 6 months).
Strains of the flu change constantly, which is why we need a new vaccine every year to guard against this often-debilitating illness.
Timing is everything
Immunity against the flu following vaccination does wear off after some time. Most people will develop immunity 2 to 3 weeks after their flu shot. And it provides the best protection against the flu within 3 to 4 months of being vaccinated.
Flu season in Australia usually runs from June to September, peaking in August. The Chief Medical Officer for the Australian Government, Professor Brendan Murphy, recommends vaccinating from mid-April in order to develop immunity before rates of influenza increase.
Your GP can recommend the best time to get the flu shot based on your individual circumstances. Ultimately, being vaccinated at any time is better than not at all.
The government's Chief Medical Officer recommends vaccinating from mid-April in order to develop immunity before rates of influenza increase.
Revaccination — getting a second dose of the flu shot — later in the year for individuals who have already had the vaccination is not routinely recommended.
Who's eligible for the free flu shot?
Many Australians can get vaccinated against the flu for free, thanks to the National Immunisation Program (NIP). This year, the government has secured more than 6 million doses of the vaccine to help protect those most at risk of getting sick during the flu season.
For the first time, all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 6 months or older will be eligible for a free flu vaccination. (Previously, only Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people aged 6 months to 5 years, or older than 15, were eligible.)
Other Australians who are entitled to a free flu shot include:
- Adults aged 65 and over
- Adults and children (aged 6 months and over) with certain medical conditions
- Pregnant women — during any stage of pregnancy. (This also provides some protection for the baby.)
Ask your doctor if you're eligible for a free flu vaccination.
How you can help track flu symptoms
Flutracking.net is the largest community-based surveillance of its kind in the world. More than 40,000 Australians have signed up to the project to help monitor flu and flu-like symptoms online.
Here's how it works: you register here, and once a week you fill out a 10-second survey asking about symptoms such as fever, cough and sore throat. You're also asked about any missed days from work or school due to illness; whether you sought doctor's advice; and whether you've been diagnosed with influenza.
“Flu tracking allows people to report their flu-like symptoms directly, so researchers know exactly what is happening out there in the community," explains Dr Craig Dalton, a public health physician and the coordinator of Flutracker.net. "It gives us a reality check on the seriousness of disease in the community — beyond the small proportion of cases that go to doctors or hospitals.”
For more information
- Talk to your GP.
- You can visit the National Immunisation Program or call the NIP hotline on 1800 671 811 between 8am and 5pm AEST.
- Check out the flu trends indicator for Australia and learn how to stop the spread of flu on healthdirect.gov.au.
Watch this video — prevent the spread of flu
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