Who should have the flu shot?
The Australian Government recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months has the flu shot every year.
It’s difficult to predict who will catch influenza (usually referred to as the flu), or who will become seriously ill from it. The flu can require someone to be hospitalised and it 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 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.
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 and so you can't catch the flu from the vaccine.
Sometimes 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 your being vaccinated and sometimes last for 1 or 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.
In 2017, about 1 in 20 Australians who received a flu vaccination reported side effects. However, 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.
There is another kind of flu vaccine, called the live attenuated intranasal vaccine (LAIV), which could explain why some Australians mistakenly believe they're being given a live vaccine. The LAIV is made from weakened flu virus and is sprayed into the nostrils, but is only available overseas.
I’ve had the flu shot but then got the flu — why bother having it?
Flu vaccination prevents illness in 5 or 6 out of 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 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 them to be hospitalised. In some cases, it can even be fatal. It is not possible to predict who will be severely affected.
However, vaccination against the flu both reduces your chances of getting it and may reduce the severity of the symptoms if you do, so it is still important to have the shot.
Do children, adults, pregnant women and the elderly need a different vaccine?
Generally, children, adults and pregnant women get the same vaccine to protect them against the flu. However, if your child is under 9 years old and has not been vaccinated before, they will need to get 2 doses of the vaccine, at least 4 weeks apart, in their first year.
In 2018, 2 new flu vaccines (Fluzone High-Dose and Fluad) became available for people aged 65 years and over. These vaccines are not available for people younger than 65.
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 adults getting more than 1 dose of vaccine in the same flu season. Only children under 9 years old who have not been vaccinated against the flu before should receive a second dose of the vaccine.
Can I get the flu from being cold?
Feeling cold doesn't cause the flu (or the common cold). The only way to catch influenza is to be exposed to the virus, via tiny droplets of mucus that are coughed or sneezed into the air or transmitted through touch.
Cold and flu season does happen to coincide with the colder months. Wintry weather forces people indoors more often — where they're more likely to be in close proximity with infectious people.
I have an egg allergy — can I still have the flu shot?
The influenza vaccine is 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 in response to the vaccine is very low, estimated at 1.35 cases per 1 million doses.
It is rare for people with egg allergy to experience other adverse 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.
For more information on the flu vaccine, go to the Department of Health website or call the National Immunisation Hotline on 1800 671 811.
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Last reviewed: April 2019