Australians are being urged to get their flu vaccination as soon as possible — to reduce the risk of a dangerous double-up of seasonal influenza and coronavirus (COVID-19).
More than 13 million doses of the seasonal flu vaccine have been secured by the Australian Government for the National Immunisation Program (NIP) Schedule and the private market — double the number of vaccines secured in 2019. It expects to provide more free flu shots this year than in any previous year.
While the vaccine won't protect you against COVID-19, it will reduce your risk of influenza — which kills hundreds of people every year and leads to thousands more hospitalisations. In 2017, a particularly bad season in Australia, the flu caused more than 1,200 deaths (3.9 per 100,000 people).
Why is the flu vaccine free for some people?
The NIP Schedule provides free flu vaccinations to the people who are most at risk of complications from the flu. These include:
- pregnant women (at any stage of their pregnancy)
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 6 months and older
- people aged 65 years and older
- people aged 6 months and older with certain health conditions (such as heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease and asthma)
- all children aged between 6 months and 5 years
The government has procured more than 4 million doses of Fluad Quad, a type of flu vaccine targeting people aged over 65. This should be enough to protect almost all Australians in that age group.
Free or not, everyone is encouraged to get a flu shot. If you're not eligible for an NIP-subsidised vaccination, you can get one for a small cost. Many GPs will bulk-bill for the appointment (meaning you won't pay for the consultation) or you can book a flu shot at a pharmacy.
The flu vaccine will help reduce the strain on hospitals and lungs — both seasonal influenza and COVID-19 can cause respiratory problems and even pneumonia. You don't want to get both at the same time.
Can I get a flu shot if I'm in isolation or physical distancing?
All Australians are urged to stay at home unless absolutely necessary, to combat the spread of COVID-19 and to 'flatten the curve'. But you can go out to exercise, buy groceries, travel to work or school (if you can't work or study remotely) and seek medical care or supplies — including a flu vaccination.
If you do not have confirmed or probable (suspected) COVID-19, you should get a flu shot. Call ahead to check if your health provider has the vaccine in stock.
If you have confirmed COVID-19 or are in isolation due to probable (suspected) COVID-19, you can't leave your home or accommodation to get the flu shot. Your doctor will be able to tell you when you can get the jab.
From 1 May 2020, all aged care workers and visitors must have been vaccinated against seasonal influenza to enter an aged care facility.
What's the difference between influenza and COVID-19?
While the early symptoms of the seasonal flu and coronavirus (COVID-19) can be similar — fever and cough, for example — and they are transmitted the same way, there are some key differences.
Influenza typically has a shorter incubation period (the time from the infection to when symptoms appear) than COVID-19, which means influenza can spread faster.
The risk of severe illness seems to be higher for COVID-19 than influenza, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). While the data so far shows that 4 in 5 cases of COVID-19 are mild (or even with no symptoms), the number of people with 'severe or critical' infection (needing intensive care, for example) could be higher than that of influenza.
62% of Australians surveyed say they want to get the flu shot in 2020. —Healthcare & Medical Research Study Australian General Population March, 2020, by APMI Partners, of 15,203 respondents
Physical distancing behaviours will help slow the spread both of COVID-19 and the flu. You can help fight these global killers by:
- washing your hands well and often
- practising physical distancing (such as keeping 1.5 metres away from others)
- avoiding public or non-essential gatherings
- avoiding non-essential travel
- knowing when and how to self-isolate
Where to get more information
- Read more about the flu here.
- Learn more about coronavirus (COVID-19) here.
- You can visit the National Immunisation Program or call the NIP hotline on 1800 671 811.
- To find a GP or pharmacist who can give you a flu shot, use the healthdirect Service Finder.
- 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 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria).
Want more like this?
For health and wellbeing news you can use, go to the healthdirect blog.