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Flu vaccine FAQs

10-minute read

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You may have questions about the influenza (flu) vaccine, when to get it, who can get it, its safety and effectiveness, and more. Here are answers to some common questions about flu vaccination.

Who should have the flu shot?

The Australian Government recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months has a flu vaccination every year.

The annual flu vaccine is free for some people under the National Immunisation program. These people include:

  • all children aged 6 months to 5 years
  • all adults aged 65 years and over
  • people aged 5 to 65 years who are at a higher risk of complications from the flu. That is, all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people who have certain medical conditions and pregnant women.

It's difficult to predict who will catch influenza ('the flu'), or who will become seriously ill from it. The flu can require hospitalisation and can even be fatal.

Getting vaccinated against the flu helps protect both you and the people around you. It's particularly important to protect vulnerable people in the community who can't be vaccinated, such as babies who are younger than 6 months and adults with low immunity.

When should I have the flu shot?

Your immunity is strongest and most effective for 3 to 4 months after you are vaccinated. Flu season in Australia usually runs from June to September, peaking in August, so it is important to get your flu shot in April or May.

BOOK YOUR VACCINATION — Use the Service Finder to book a COVID-19 vaccination.

Does the flu vaccine protect against COVID-19?

The flu vaccine won't protect you against COVID-19 (coronavirus), but it will reduce your risk of influenza — which leads to thousands of hospitalisations each year. By getting the flu vaccine, you can reduce the strain on the health service.

Can I get the influenza (flu) vaccine and COVID-19 vaccine at the same time?

You can get a COVID-19 vaccine and a flu vaccine at the same time.

However, there's an increased chance that you will experience mild to moderate side effects if more than 1 vaccine is given at the same time.

Children can also safely receive other vaccines any time before, after or at the same time as their COVID-19 vaccination. If your child has recently received another vaccine (within the past 7 days), it's best to let your immunisation provider know so they can correctly assess any side effects.

As with any other vaccine, vaccination will be deferred if you're unwell. If you experience a side effect such as fever following vaccination, other vaccines will not be administered until the side effect has resolved.

Can the flu shot give me the flu?

No. All flu vaccines used in Australia are 'inactivated', which means they do not contain the live flu virus — so you can't catch the flu from the vaccine.

Less than 1 in 6 people experience side effects from the flu shot that are similar to the early signs of the flu. These may include fever, tiredness and muscle aches. These side effects can start within a few hours of vaccination and sometimes last for 1 to 2 days. They usually go away on their own, once your body has developed an immune response to the vaccine, which will protect you from the flu virus.

It's important to remember that the side effects show the vaccine is triggering an immune response, which is what it's designed to do.

Sometimes I get the flu despite having had the flu shot — why should I bother?

Flu vaccination prevents illness in up to 6 in 10 healthy adults under the age of 65. Because the vaccine is not effective in absolutely every case, some people may still catch the virus after having the flu shot. But the risk of severe illness is still reduced.

Although most people who get the flu recover without lasting effects, the flu can be very serious in some people and may require hospitalisation. In some cases, it can even be fatal. It's not possible to predict who will be severely affected.

Vaccination against the flu both reduces your chances of getting it and the severity of the symptoms if you do. So it's still important to have the shot.

Is it true that the flu vaccine can cause febrile seizures in young children?

In rare circumstances, infants and children who get the influenza vaccine may have a febrile seizure, also known as febrile convulsion This can happen when the child's temperature goes up suddenly (fever). Febrile seizures usually last around 1 to 2 minutes with loss of consciousness, but nearly all children will recover quickly, regardless of the cause.

Influenza itself can cause fever and results in more febrile seizures than vaccination.

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Is it OK to get the flu vaccine more than once in the same flu season?

Studies have not shown there is any benefit for most adults getting more than one dose of vaccine in the same flu season. However, it's recommended that some people get 2 doses of the flu vaccine in one season:

  • children under 9 years old who have not ever been vaccinated against the flu (then one dose annually)
  • people who are having flu vaccination for the first time after a stem cell transplant or organ transplant
  • pregnant women, who may be vaccinated with the next season's influenza vaccine if it becomes available in the latter part of their pregnancy, even if they had the previous season's vaccine
  • overseas travellers who are going to the northern hemisphere winter
  • people who had a 2023 influenza vaccine in late 2023 or early 2024, are still recommended to have the 2024 influenza vaccine when it becomes available

Can I get the flu vaccine if I have an egg allergy?

The influenza vaccine is typically grown in eggs. But the traces of egg protein that remain after the vaccine is made are so tiny that the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) says both adults and children with egg allergy can be safely vaccinated against the flu. The risk of anaphylaxis after vaccination is very low, estimated at 1.35 cases per 1 million doses.

It is rare for people with egg allergy to experience other side effects, such as hives, wheezing, vomiting or abdominal pain, after getting the flu shot. If you are concerned, ask your doctor if you, or your child, can be observed by staff for 30 minutes after receiving the vaccine (instead of the recommended 15 minutes).

Can I get the flu vaccine if I have a latex allergy?

Influenza vaccines used in Australia don't contain latex and are safe for people with a latex allergy or sensitivity. However, the possibility that some products may have come into contact with instruments which contain latex cannot be excluded. People who are extremely sensitive to latex should talk to their doctor for advice.

What is the cell-based influenza vaccine and is it better than egg-based vaccines?

The production of influenza vaccines traditionally involves hen's eggs. However, there is a different method for cell-based influenza vaccines — such as Flucelvax Quad, the only cell-based flu vaccine approved for use in Australia. It's approved and available free for use in children aged 6 months to 5 years and is also available free to at risk people, aged 5 to 64 years of age under the National Immunisation Program (NIP) schedule.

Studies show that cell-based vaccines have a similar efficacy and safety profile to standard (egg-based) flu vaccines. There is no preference for use between Flucelvax Quad and standard dose egg-based influenza vaccines

What is an 'enhanced' influenza vaccine?

An enhanced flu vaccine is one that contains an 'adjuvant', an ingredient designed to increase the immune-system response to the vaccine. People aged 65 and older are often given an enhanced influenza vaccine because — since the immune system weakens with age — they don't respond as well to the flu vaccine as healthy, younger adults.

Can I have the flu vaccine if I take immune checkpoint inhibitors?

Immune checkpoint inhibitors are a type of medicine used to treat some cancers, including metastatic melanoma, renal clear cell carcinoma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, non-small cell lung cancer and other solid organ tumours. Checkpoint inhibitors include ipilimumab, nivolumab and pembrolizumab.

People taking checkpoint inhibitors may have a higher risk of immune-related side effects following influenza vaccination. Talk to your oncologist about the risks and benefits of the flu shot.

Resources and support

  • Learn more about colds and flu here.
  • If you are feeling concerned about any symptoms of a cold or flu then see your doctor. If you would like to speak to a registered nurse, call healthdirect on 1800 022 222, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria).
  • The Department of Health and Aged Care have published information on the flu vaccine in an Easy Read format for people with an intellectual disability.
  • Translated information on influenza and the flu vaccine is available on the NSW Health website.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: April 2024

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